Kevin Riordan: 'Diamonds' of vintage glass reflect Pine Barrens' past

Paul Evans Pederson Jr., in his studio at home. The diamonds "started witha metal detector about 25 years ago," Pedersen says.
Paul Evans Pederson Jr., in his studio at home. The diamonds "started witha metal detector about 25 years ago," Pedersen says. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 04, 2012

Perhaps alchemist is the best word for artist, writer, and musician Paul Evans Pedersen Jr.

After all, this is a man who digs up discarded chunks of vintage South Jersey glass and transforms them into "Pine Barrens Diamonds."

Pieces of jewelry featuring his man-made gems will be displayed next Sunday at Lines on the Pines, an artists' showcase in Hammonton. The annual event features about 50 local residents, working in a variety of media, who are inspired by the distinctive history, landscape, and culture of the Pinelands. (For information, go to www.pineypower.com.)

The diamonds "started with a metal detector about 25 years ago," says Pedersen, 57. He writes music, prose, and poetry when not turning raw material someone threw away a century ago into objects to treasure.

"I was using the detector to find buried treasure, and I found buried fruit jars," adds the affable, bearded bear of a guy, who has four children and 10 grandchildren.

The former firefighter and truck driver grew up in Collingswood, where he studied haiku with beloved Camden poet Nick Virgilio.

Following stints in Houston and Nashville, he and his wife, Cecelia ("Cookie"), moved to a rambling, 19th-century farmhouse in the Elm section of Winslow Township.

"I've always felt at home in the Pine Barrens," says Pedersen, a longtime collector of vintage bottles. They're what inspired his passion for glass.

"On some of them you can feel the glassblower's thumbprint, from where he pulled [the bottle] off the stick," he notes. "Sometimes you can see an air bubble - that's his breath - in the glass. There's something very magical about that."

The pendants, necklaces, and pins Pedersen crafts from his finds "bring together two worlds . . . collectors of vintage glass and jewelry-lovers," says Jean Hasselhan, an Atco nurse and jewelry-maker who frames some of Pedersen's glass in sterling silver.

Linda Stanton, founder and president of Lines on the Pines, says Pedersen's work exemplifies the organization's goal to showcase the Pine Barrens.

"My favorite thing is that his [raw material] comes from the old glass factories in the area," she says.

Bert Olive gave Pedersen his big break, agreeing to display some of his pieces at Bumble Beeds, her store in Smithville, Atlantic County.

"They're unique, and they come with a story," she says, adding, "The Pine Barrens is a very fascinating area . . . and Paul is a unique person."

Pedersen shows me around his studio. Guitars and recording equipment attest to other creative endeavors. He and Cookie both have recorded country-music CDs.

"That's a digital recorder. I do voice-overs for a company in Florida."

He also has self-published a wry, R-rated book of essays, Required Restroom Readings. And he's got another book in manuscript form, this one about Pinelands legends "old and new."

The sandy, high-silica soil in and around the Pine Barrens encouraged glassmaking in the region, beginning in the early 18th century.

Pedersen recovers raw material from the sites of the Coffin & Hay, Bulltown, Tansboro, and other glassworks that once dotted South Jersey.

"I take a chunk and chip away smaller pieces of glass, which go in the tumbler for 700 hours," he says.

More elaborate glass creations require a layering process, using secret techniques and materials.

"I cook [the pieces] in the kiln, fire-polish it . . . and, depending on what ground glass I use for color, it comes out gorgeous enough to wrap."

Pedersen picks up a glossy, jagged, fist-sized chunk of cast-off glass the color of licorice. He retrieved it near the Coffin & Hay site in Winslow.

"If you look at it in the light, you see all the colors," Pedersen says.

He's right: There's much more to this souvenir of a lost industry than initially meets the eye.

Within this once-molten mass, a rainbow awaits.


Kevin Riordan:

Paul Evans Pedersen Jr. explains how he creates his "Pine Barrens Diamonds." www.philly.com/diamonds


Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.philly.com/blinq.

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