by Jessica Carreras
Rex Nockengust can’t enjoy a getaway by the ocean – it’s all work to him and his partner, Gene Allen.
The two proprietors of the jewelry company Beach Glass Bingo, who will be selling their pieces at the Orchard Lake Fine Arts Show July 24-26, are originally from New York, but have spent the past decade as beach-combing businessmen in Hawaii and now San Diego. Whenever the couple of 19 years heads to a sandy spot, they’re looking for colorful bits to make their next pieces of jewelry – necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings – all crafted from beach glass.
But the business itself was all by chance. “We were kind of at a loss for things to do creatively (in Hawaii),” says Nockengust, who explains that the two used to be actors and singers in the Big Apple.
“We used to always walk the beach and pick up beach glass and eventually we started thinking ‘let’s make something with this’ … and from there it just sort of took off. It’s not like either one of us are trained jewelers or something that either one of us aspired to do or anything like that. It just sort of happened.”
That hobby has now turned into Beach Glass Bingo. The duo exhibits and sells their jewelry at over 30 art shows a year, plus shipping out to wholesale accounts at stores across the country.
Michiganders can find their pieces at the Studio B Gallery in Three Oaks and The Painted Bird in Suttons Bay. Or, they can stop by an art fair – Nockengust and Allen are doing two more this year in the state, and just finished up a run at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
And despite our dismal economy, Nockengust says the company cleans up in Michigan. “We do a lot of shows in the Midwest and we do really well in areas where there isn’t a beach,” he claims. “People sort of think about when they’re on vacation or what they used to do when they were near the water.”
For those who can’t afford to go on vacation, it’s a little piece of paradise they can wear every day – for a not-so-steep price. “We tend to do a little better at some of these art fairs than some of our friends that do jewelry because you can go to our booth and buy something for as little as $25 or as high as $400, but there’s a pretty wide price range,” Nockengust explains. “A lot of our friends who do jewelry, their stuff starts at $100 so if someone’s coming – especially with the economy now – who wants to buy something, they can’t go that step.”
Moreover, says Nockengust, many Michiganders collect beach glass of their own at the many lakes surrounding the state. “That’s why I think Ann Arbor went so well for us,” he muses. “So many people would just come talk to us about ‘I get my glass here’ or ‘I go to this beach’ or whatever and then eventually they buy a piece.”
As for Beach Glass Bingo’s materials, they come from several different places. The couple has five people who collect glass for them, including one out of Lake Erie. As for Nockengust and Allen, they can be found mostly oceanside near their home, but profess a desire to check out Michigan’s lake beaches. “I’ve never been to the really beautiful beaches at Lake Michigan I hear so much that are just so beautiful up north,” Nockengust says. “I would love to go up there, not necessary to collect beach glass, but just to see the beaches.”
Of course, combining work and vacation is always hard – or easy? – when your job takes you to the beach. “It’s also a good way to write off your trip,” Nockengust jokes. “‘I have to go to work. I have to go to the beach.’
“Why not, right?”
Orchard Lake Fine Arts Show
St. Mary’s Schools, 3535 Indian Trail, Orchard Lake