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Arts & Finds – The Art of Sand

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Sandcastles fall from the sky, not because they’re anything less than shockingly delightful, but because the sky is etheric. We need earth to create art as much as we need ideas to sprinkle down from the sky.

Sand art is so organic, so simple and so completely divine. The penetrating detail of this exquisite art form arrests me every time. In fact, I find the entire gamut of sand art Sand arthypnotizing, from simple sculptures like igloos and horses, to more complex sculptures like magnificent castles, small villages and life- inspired portraits. Sand art makes me love the beach even more, though I suppose that I’m not as awe struck by the sand as I am by the artists who transform these elements into spectacular works of art.

Sand sculpting has been around for centuries, origins unknown, but I wouldn’t doubt that creative types among the ancient Egyptians constructed sand reproductions of the pyramids. Artists began to profit from their craft in the 19th century, first as unintentional buskers. In the 1970s, Gerry Kirk and Todd Vander Pluym from California began to approach the pastime professionally, and were among the first of many teams to succeed in the sand-castle-building industry. Kirk, grand master of sand and founder of the World Sand Sculpting Association, holds four Guinness book world records.

For decades professional sculpting teams have travelled to festivals and competitions, vying for prestigious crowns and monetary prizes. Close to home, BC’s Harrison Hot Springs and Parksville on Vancouver Island host sand sculpting competitions each year, while popular international sand sculpting locales include Australia, California, Florida, Russia, and there’s even an offshore competition in Berlin, Germany, called Sandsation. In May and June each year, the world’s top sand artists flock to Fulong Beach on Taiwan’s northeast coast to participate in one of the most popular festivals in the world.

The beach area between Yanliao and Fulong in Taiwan, the Gold Beach, is certified as the best sculpting site in Taiwan by the World Sand Sculpting Academy because of its soft quartz sand, which is flexible and highly adhesive when mixed with water. The festival has been running every year since 2008, and in 2011, 350,000 visitors strolled through a larger than life sand gallery to view sophisticated works of art made with nothing more than water and sand.

A few weeks before the sand festival starts, event organizers prep the beach so that sculptors can basically just show up and start sculpting. The sand is piled up in layers with the help of excavators, and the resulting sand pyramids are held in place with wooden planks. Each layer is compressed with tamping rammers, with circumference and height varying based on designs submitted by sculptors in advance.

Sculptors start at the top and work down, and they can’t go back up and make changes once they’re done. It’s amazing that works of art stay together at all considering the fragile nature of sand, but for competitions and festivals, sculptures are protected by an environmentally friendly sealer consisting of wood glue and water. Visitors are apparently more of a danger to delicate sand sculptures than heavy rains and typhoons.

Sand art merges sculpture with architecture, entertainment and sports, and provides productive avenues for artists to create an outdoor gallery for visitors to peruse. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, sand sculpting has continued to be an integral component of sandy beaches and beachside resorts world wide, as artists tour the globe in a quest to create art out of sand.

Plenty of things to keep us busy down here, you see? When those sand castles fall from the sky…

In the beginning, teams reproduced intricate, miniature castles in competitions, while nowadays anything and everything is reproduced from ancient mystical cities and dragons, to Ferraris and skull graves.

By: Jill Lang NICHE Magazine Summer issue 2013

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