A walk on a beach can be fun, but generally not profitable.
Liz Chase of Kasilof, however, has found a way to make some money and a name for herself by combing Cook Inlet beaches for maritime treasures.
Chase makes wreaths from her beach finds. At last count, she had sold more than 300.
She travels to fish sites around the Kenai Peninsula and attains many items from fishers who would otherwise dispose of the objects.
"It is garbage to them, but it is treasure to me," she said.
Her husband, Mike, sparked her creativity early on by encouraging her to "do something with all that junk or get rid of it." Today, he is glad he helped her.
Shells are not the only fishy things that can be found on wreaths made by Chase. Crab shells, jaw bones of various creatures and sea stars are just a few of the animal remains Chase has collected for her art works.
Photo by SARA SMITH
"There is no one who can make them like Liz makes them," Mike said. "She has a gift for them."
In 1982, Liz and Mike moved to Alaska and soon became fish buyers for the Salamatof cannery in Kenai. The couple drove 10 miles of Northern District beach to pick up fish.
But Liz soon was collecting more than just fish.
It didn't take long until she was overwhelmed by a plethora of sea remains. Using her free time, she glued the remains to discarded fish boxes or strung driftwood together to give away or to sell.
In 1988, the couple purchased a permit to setnet in Cook Inlet. To commemorate the purchase, Liz made a wreath of old rope that had washed ashore and hot glued a few shells on it along with a piece of beach glass. Because of the stiffness of the used rope, the shape held with the weight of the shells. The wreath still hangs in the Chase home.
With many positive comments about that first wreath, Liz began making more wreaths in 1995. Most of them were Christmas presents.
Chase's creations are not always circular, but they are creative. Her creations are adorned with shells, corks, fishing rope and more. Chase has combed area beaches in search of unique objects for the wreaths.
Photo by SARA SMITH
Then, she made and sold her wreaths at the annual craft fair held in late November in Kenai. Today, she still participates in the event, but also makes many wreaths for phone-order customers.
While her summers are spent fishing in Cook Inlet, Liz works on her wreaths during the winter months in her home under the business name of Beachm's Nautical Nook. The name "Beachm" is derived from the first letter of the name of each of her family members. Her nook is filled with boxes filled with almost every sea object imaginable. Each wreath takes anywhere from five to 10 hours to create.
The wreaths are not just nice wall hangings, but a way to educate people about the richness of Cook Inlet fisheries.
"It is not just about salmon," said Liz, who became interested in the history of the Cook Inlet fisheries once she became personally involved with them.
Liz notes on the insert that comes with her wreaths that the primary fisheries represented in her wreaths are salmon setnet, purse seine, drift gillnet, halibut and cod longline. The shellfish industries represented are mussels, crabbing, oyster, razor and little neck clams, and scallop drag fisheries.
Her four children have combed the beaches over the years to help her find just the right shells and other sea prizes.
She said she also has had families bring her items to make a wreath to give to the fisher in their lives.
"The stuff and art I touch are the things he really used, and that is special for me," said Liz.
Every wreath is made with care, and it is often hard to part with her creations.
"Because every one is different, it is like giving your children away," she said.
Some of her favorite wreaths are on display this month at Kaladi Brothers Coffee Company. These wreaths are ones Liz cannot bear to part with, but that she nevertheless wants to share.
Though she also enjoys depicting fisheries through oil painting, the orders she gets keep her making the wreaths.
"I can't get away from the wreaths because I love them," she said.
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