By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Sea glass has captured the human imagination for millennia, with its naturally frosted deep pastels, and it continues to inspire artists today. Mission Valley is home to two such artists, jewelry makers Gene Allen and his husband Rex Nockengust.
Together, they design and create sea glass and silver jewelry reminiscent of ancient Egypt, yet designed with a contemporary flair. San Diegans captivated by the glass will be able to meet the artists, view their jewelry, and even take a piece or two home at the upcoming ArtWalk @ Liberty Station during the weekend of Aug. 11 and 12.
Now in its 13th year at Liberty Station, the arts festival is intended to welcome a broad and diverse audience, whether art-savvy or not — just as a lovely piece of sea glass can attract anyone’s eye.
“We believe that everyone, regardless of income status or knowledge of art, should have the opportunity of owning original fine art,” said Sandi Cottrell, the festival’s director. “It’s so much more rewarding to collect something crafted by an artist and get to know the artist’s story. [ArtWalk] makes the possibility of owning fine art available to everyone. … There are pieces at the event that are over $10,000 and pieces that sell for $50, so there’s quite a variety there.”
ArtWalk began as a showcase for unrepresented artists, who installed their work in empty warehouses and office buildings. Now blossomed into three festivals around the county, it has become an accessible, family-friendly venue for music and interactive art-making activities, and for locally and internationally renowned artists. The artists work in a spectrum of media including, painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics — and jewelry.
Allen and Nockengust are among 25 jewelry artists who will be displaying their work at ArtWalk, although their styles and materials vary widely. And, again, sea glass has a particular appeal for many people
“I think it’s all about a trip to the beach, those positive ions,” Allen said. “Also that Zen activity of looking for something, of trash that nature smoothed out — it’s a metaphor for life. We are always traveling the world and collecting beach glass.”
Allen and Nockengust began their jewelry business in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2000. They had found a quiet beach near an old dump that proved a rich sea glass source. Having settled in Mission Valley about a year ago, their sources are now scattered, from friends in Puerto Rico to a 70-year-old in Nova Scotia, who picks through the flotsam and jetsam along the island’s coast.
Allen has a cheerful approach to the business of making art, and it is reflected in the company’s name, Beach Glass Bingo. The origin? According to Allen, Nockengust is a bingo fanatic — and then there’s the 1965 Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon film, “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
When they are not scouring beaches for sea glass or traveling to arts festivals across the country, Allen and Nockengust are in their Clairemont Mesa studio. There they use a technique called cold connection to join the metal parts of each piece without soldering. It’s a process as natural as that of finding the glass.
“It’s simple,” Allen said, “but it works!”
What also works is the draw of ArtWalk @ Liberty Station. Cottrell said this particular festival is estimated to bring over half a million in art sales into the local economy.
Not only does the festival bring revenue to the city, while providing a fun and engaging venue for artists and their audience, ArtWalk also partners with nonprofit ArtReach to bring arts into local schools. ArtReach provides free visual arts workshops at schools that have little or no resources for art classes.
“ArtReach is always an important element of everything we do,” Cottrell explained.
The importance of the arts to San Diego is reflected in the city’s numerous arts organizations, venues, performances and festivals. ArtWalk is one that welcomes everyone to enjoy the arts and meet their creators.
The festival will be in Ingram Plaza in the Arts District at Liberty Station, located at 2751 Dewey Road, San Diego, CA 92106
Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking is free throughout Liberty Center.
For more information about the festival, visit artwalksandiego.org and click on ArtWalk @ Liberty Station.
For more information about ArtReach, visit artreachsandiego.org.
—Kit-Bacon Gressitt formerly wrote for the North County Times. She now writes for her site ExcuseMeImWriting.com and she is the publisher and an editor of WritersResist.com. She also hosts Fallbrook Library’s monthly Writers Read author series and open mic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.