A Souvenir That's Always A-Round

By Gretchen Ammerman | Monday, April 1, 2019

Shortly after moving to Lincoln City, my husband and I found a beautiful multicolored glass float when walking along the beach, and it made us feel pretty darn special. When telling the tale, however, we found out we weren’t that special after all we had found one of the floats from the then fairly new Finders Keepers program, where hand-blown floats are dropped along Lincoln City’s roughly 7-mile beach above the high tide line during the off-season (it’s since been extended to year round). 

I asked Kelly Howard, prolific glass artist and co-owner of the Lincoln City Glass Center, to tell me a bit more about how the whole thing started.

“Back in the late 1990s a Seattle based artist, Bryan Duncan, came down the coast looking for a town to sponsor a project putting 2,000 glass floats on the beach to celebrate the millennium,” Howard said. “The head of the Lincoln City Visitors and Convention Bureau loved the idea, so the city funded it and it became so popular they kept it going. I think it hits the same chord in people as gambling or even an Easter egg hunt – the thrill of beating the odds and feeling lucky.”

The program isn’t much of a stretch for the area; glass floats unmoored from Japanese fishing nets once landed so frequently on central coast beaches they were popular lawn ornaments. 

“In the 1930s and 40s people had floats lining their walkways or filling their front lawns,” Annie Hall said, former Director of the North Lincoln County Historical Museum, where you can view rare Japanese floats and a collection of historical American floats. “People didn’t have to worry about anyone walking away with them because they were far from rare or valuable for many years.”

Now the old ones are definitely a rare beach find, and there are only so many hidden by the “Float Fairies,” the volunteers who stash the glass floats throughout Oregon's coast, but don’t despair, there’s one more way to adorn your home with a colorful orb: Make it yourself. 

“We get lots people who didn’t find one so they come into the shop to blow their own; I think in a way those are more special,” Howard said. “I’ve had people tear up when doing it because it's such a moving experience.”

Photo by Tracy McEwan

When I was gifted the chance to blow a float, I actually found it a bit stressful when it came time to choose my colors: “What if I mess up and make an ugly blob,” I worried. But I soldered on with encouragement from the very patient glass artist that helped me. It turns out I have talent. Or not . . . .

“You actually can easily make an ugly float, but we micromanage the experience,” Howard said. “We encourage people to be creative with their colors, but we expend a lot of effort to make sure they go home with something they’ll be happy with. It’s one of the reasons we have a lot of return customers.”

Howard is also one of the group of Northwest glass artists who make floats for the Finders Keepers program, and she’s a big fan of it. 

“I like that it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries,” Howard said. “Finding the floats is available to everyone. We even just had a program where at-risk kids from Taft Elementary made floats for the program – how cool is that?”

Pretty cool, Kelly, pretty cool.

The Float Fairies hide these glass floats at random times and at unspecified locations, and you can happen upon them at any time of the year. Around different holidays, you may even find extra floats that take on a festive color scheme. For other happenings around the coast this week, be sure to check out our Central Oregon Coast Daytime Events page and our Central Oregon Coast Nightlife page.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.