‘Do What You Love:’ The Daniels on Their Crafting Business

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Al and Sue Daniels have made a cottage industry out of making beach glass jewelry.

It’s likely a lifelong goal for many — perhaps even you: to do what you love. That’s how Sue Daniels described her and her husband Al’s business — and why Sag Harbor Seashells has been such a hit over the last five years.

The two East End residents, who have been married for a half-century, walk the beach daily at low tide to find beach glass, shells, stones and other objects to transform into creative art pieces. From jewelry made with red and lavender beach glass — the two rarest colors of them all, they say — to lighthouses painted with watercolor and miniature beach glass Christmas trees, their craft appears to have no bounds.

The Daniels will set up shop once again at the craft fair at the Sag Harbor Historical Society on Saturday, September 7.

“We love beach glass and we love shells and stone, and just being at the beach in itself is fun,” said Ms. Daniels in a recent interview at the bustling Fisherman’s Fair at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. Since they both retired five years ago — Ms. Daniels was a preschool teacher for over 25 years and founded the Rainbow Preschool, and Mr. Daniels was a building inspector in Sag Harbor Village for 30 years — they participate in about 20 shows annually, most of them concentrated between October and December, ahead of the holiday season.

But their story dates back to when Ms. Daniels first received her learner’s permit when she was 16. As she tried to pass the car in front of her, she ran Mr. Daniels off the road. He took her for a drive — and, yes, the rest was history.

Back at the busy fair that had cars parked at least a half-mile down Springs Fireplace Road, it was easy to see how the Daniels’s business has become so popular. They don’t just sell their wide selection of crafts — they get to know their customers too.

“Hey, Sue, she’s a teacher too,” Mr. Daniels said excitedly to his wife, raising his voice so she could hear him across the tent.

Samantha Smith, the woman to whom Mr. Daniels was referring, teaches in New York City and called herself an “honorary Bonacker,” as she’s been coming to Springs with her family since the 1980s. She purchased a statement necklace made out of bright green beach glass, which Mr. Daniels helped her fasten appropriately over her red dress — so it would make just that: a statement.

“I love the shape of the glass,” she said, holding the smooth-edged necklace out in front of her for me to see. “He did that drill in there — it’s very smooth but it’s making a big statement.”

Ms. Smith said emphatically that she would wear her necklace during the cold winter months to help her recall this sunny day at the Fisherman’s Fair.

“This is pretty cool, right?” Mr. Daniels said. “You get to meet all these people.”

It’s not unusual for their customers, friends and even their travels to serve as inspiration for new craft ideas. Take plain white blocks, for example. They’ve transformed them into art by using wampum and beach glass to depict whimsical cats and other characters — and now, at the suggestion of a customer, they serve as key-holders too. A single request for a greeting card has blossomed into an entire collection of them, which Ms. Daniels illustrates using watercolor. And a painting of colorful houses at a museum in Maine encouraged the duo to use beach glass to illustrate the same.

“We’ll make our own version of it, so, basically, we’ll make it out of all our stuff we find at the beach,” Mr. Daniels said.

Though they both talk about how much fun it is for them to craft, it’s not always easy. Ms. Daniels doesn’t hesitate to admit that she’s had difficulty illustrating dogs, an animal that’s in high demand. “I can look at two stones and see a cat, but I’m still struggling for the dog,” she said, holding up a piece of her artwork and cocking her head to one side.

“We got an interesting thing going here and nobody really does what we do,” Mr. Daniels chimed in. “There’s no competition.”

And perhaps others don’t have a local support system like they do either. Their two children, Kaitlin and Mark, and three grandchildren all live nearby, and always add to their collection of supplies — especially purple wampum, which they often find while camping in Montauk.

“We’re having a good time,” Ms. Daniels said. “If we weren’t having a good time, we would stop doing it. You know?”

The Daniels will be at the Annie Cooper Boyd House on Saturday, September 7.

 

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