Lost and Found: How a Vintage Glass Fishing Float’s Odyssey is Inspiring My Latest Art Project

Last week, an incredible package arrived at my doorstep. The timing couldn't have been more perfect—it felt like pure serendipity. As I carefully unwrapped it, I realized how the contents connected to a series of events that began last year and inspired a whole new wave of creativity in me. But first, let me take you back to where it all started.

Last May (2023), I traveled to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, located in the middle of the Pacific, to dive what’s become a ship graveyard known as the “nuclear ghost fleet.” If you’d like to read about the full trip, check out the blog post I wrote. In a nutshell, after WW2, the US government began nuclear testing and selected a remote area of the world known as Bikini Atoll. Its inhabitants were relocated (displaced) to other parts of the region. An assortment of mainly WW2 warships, including an aircraft carrier, submarines, and battleships, were consigned to the lagoon within the ring of small coral islands. The first nuclear tests began on July 16, 1945 (with Operation Crossroads) and continued until 1958, for a total of 23 nuclear tests. With my dive shop, a small group of us traveled there from our respective parts of the world to dive these incredible historical time capsules.

In the time since they were sunk to the bottom of the lagoon, the wrecks have become abundant artificial reefs, providing shelter for life to grow and flourish. After the detonation of the various bombs, most of the wrecks settled upright on the bottom of the ocean floor, and it was surreal approaching them in that state. It’s truly a marvel to see the life and colour in and amongst the armaments and other features of these incredible ships, and they inspired a series of paintings called “Afterlife.

I blogged about the experience, and as a result, made some new friends, including a former engineer that I’ll call Evan. Evan’s employer had been hired by the US government to conduct assessments and proposals for various infrastructures, in addition to reporting on the general state of the region given its exposure to radioactive materials. For a few years, he made several trips to the area and even wrote a published article about it with his findings. He shared amazing stories of his experiences there and shared his love and passion for the region and its people. Because of its remoteness, it’s still an area of the world few people have been able to see, so it was a unique connection for both of us.

Fast forward to last week: the package from Evan contained something incredibly special. During one of his work trips to Bikini Atoll, while staying on Bikini Island, he found an antique Japanese glass fishing float, identified by the mark on the glass. Originally created in Norway in the 1800s and used throughout Northern Europe, these glass floats were used to keep fishing nets or long lines afloat. Early floats were made by glassblowers, with Japanese floats often using recycled sake bottles. When still hot, a small button of soft glass was created to seal the air inside, with a mark placed beside it.

I had no idea these floats even existed, but beachcombers worldwide search for them as prized treasures. Japan started producing them in the early 1900s, and they were in high demand as essential fishing tools. Factories and glassblowers produced hundreds of thousands of these floats. Although functional when wrapped in netting and attached to larger nets, they were also fragile because of their glass nature. Once freed from their nets by the ocean and Mother Nature, these floats journey around the world’s waters, becoming fascinating treasures washed up on distant shores—including the one now in my possession!

My float is slightly over nine inches wide, which is larger than the more common sizes I found with a quick Google search. The markings on it, which western beachcombers call the double FF or mirrored F, indicate that it was produced by the Hokuyo Glass Company in Japan. This company still exists, and though they no longer produce these floats, you can book a tour to see all the beautiful glassworks they create—some of them even upcycling the original floats!

It feels as if the universe brought Evan and this float into my life at the most serendipitous moment. You see, I had randomly signed up for a CNC workshop at my art studio, intrigued by different ways to make things. It was such a great workshop that I signed up for a more advanced course, and now I’ve just finished week two. I had no idea what my project would be, but since this beautiful float was gifted to me by Evan and the universe, I now want to use the CNC process to create a unique stand for it.

I keep picturing the float rolling and bobbing in the Pacific waves for who knows how long. It’s very smooth and has a few bubble imperfections from the process of recycling sake bottles. I wonder about the fishing boat it was used on, the weight of the fishing ropes and nets given its size, and how many years it had been carried by the waves and currents before it washed up on Bikini Island, where Evan found it and brought it back to the U.S. It seems like the ocean liberated this float, keeping it intact through storms, seas, and passing ships, allowing it to continue its journey to the shores of Bikini Island to be found. And now, it has come to me.

Now, it’s in Canada (after customs gave me a little grief but then cleared it), sparking so many creative ideas for me! As the next step in its journey, I’m going to prototype an idea that pays homage to The Great Wave woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai. This iconic piece has become popular in modern culture, and I envision creating a three-dimensional acrylic or wood stand that pieces together to form the base for the float. It’s early in my CNC learning but I’ll keep you informed as I make progress! I LOVE IT when the universe weaves its magic!!!!

Thank you for reading this far!
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