By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
STANWOOD — Snow isn’t in the forecast, but people who want to go on a unique treasure hunt here next month could end up with a beautiful snowball made of glass.
The Stanwood-Camano 2010 Winter Tourism Committee’s Great Northwest Glass Quest is scheduled for Feb. 12-28. The hope is that the event will attract tourists and, in turn, help shore up small businesses in the area.
The glass quest is similar to the long-running Finders Keepers festival on the Lincoln City beach in Oregon.
In Finders Keepers, more than 2,000 colorful art-glass balls are hidden along the high-tide lines for beachcombers to find and keep. The balls are shaped like the green Japanese fishing floats that occasionally wash up on Washington’s ocean beaches.
In Stanwood, the idea is being translated into a hunt in area parks and participating businesses. So far, more than 60 businesses and organizations are on board for the Great Northwest Glass Quest. Initial funding to get the project started came from the nonprofit civic group Design Stanwood.
“The quest has the potential to revitalize the local economy,” organizer Sue Hunter said. This winter it also might attract travelers headed north to the Olympic Games, she said.
The link between Finders Keepers in Oregon and the Great Northwest Glass Quest is Stanwood glass artist Mark Ellinger.
Ellinger has made hand-blown glass floats for the Lincoln City event for many years. He also crafts glass floats for similar treasure hunts in Grayland, Wash., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Jekyll Island, Ga.
Ellinger plans to produce nearly 500 glass floats with an icy motif for the Glass Quest. These limited-edition, signed and numbered glass snowballs could become sought-after collectors’ pieces if the quest takes off and becomes an annual event, Ellinger said.
During the weeks of the local treasure hunt, people can use a guide map to look for plastic clue balls hidden in designated parks and at participating stores.
Once found, the clue ball can be exchanged for one of Ellinger’s glass snowballs at the location listed inside the plastic ball.
“We don’t have the same sort of long ocean beaches that the other hunts have, but some of the balls might be found at the state park on Camano,” he said.
A Lake Forest Park native, Ellinger, 52, grew up drawing, making ceramics and dabbling in photography. He learned to blow glass when he was employed in the 1980s by a Lynnwood gift manufacturing company.
While he’s never had a class at Pilchuck Glass School, Ellinger said he was inspired to take up glass art by the work of the school’s founding artist Dale Chihuly.
In the mid-1990s Ellinger built his Quonset hut studio at Lake Ketchum. He stuffed it with furnaces, ovens and tons of glass. Soon he was filling commissions for customers throughout the United States. Most of Ellinger’s sculptural art and functional pieces have innovative color schemes and shapes.
Those who find the clue balls Ellinger plans to hide himself also get the treat of visiting his glass studio when they pick up their glass snowball floats there.
People who don’t find a clue ball can buy glass balls at Ellinger’s studio, as well as at the Seagrass Gallery on Camano or at Gallery by the Bay in Stanwood.
Ellinger is busy this week making batches of frosty white, swirly blue and pinkish snowballs.
He sticks his steel blowpipe in the red-hot molten glass in his 2,000-degree furnace, which has been running nonstop for nearly five years.
Ellinger lifts it out and turns the blowpipe quickly to keep the honeylike molten glass from sliding off the pipe. The hot glass cools quickly.
As Ellinger blows, shapes and molds his creation, the glass frequently needs to be reheated in a gas-fired 2,300-degree “Glory Hole.”
Then, with thick, fire-resistant gloves, Ellinger places each very hot snowball into a cooling oven to sit for more than 24 hours.
“It’s great fun,” he said. “You play with fire and heat and color, and you burn yourself once in awhile. I love it.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
More information about the Great Northwest Glass Quest in Stanwood and on Camano Island is available at www.thegreatnwglassquest.com.