History of Sand Sculpting

History of Sand Sculpting

The art of sand castle building began a very long time ago, though documented evidence only starts about 500 years ago. During the 14th century, records show that poet Balaram Das created devotional sand sculptures in his native India. Some people believe the ancient Egyptians recreated the pyramids and other shapes in sand, though there is no historical proof of this.

Artists did not profit from their sand sculpting until the late 19th century, when many boardwalk sculptors were thrown coins by intrigued passers-by. Throughout the 20th century, sand sculpting continued to be an integral part of beachside resorts and many people have fond memories of building sand castles as part of competitions held at most beaches each summer.

Philip McCord created an amazing sand likeness of a drowned woman and her baby in 1897, and this is believed to be the first instance of artistic sand sculpture. Soon afterwards so many folks were fascinated by this unique art form that it became an actual business in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Here locals paid to watch sand artists who were creating large decorative sand castles and other masterpieces on the beaches.

In 1901, a writer by the name of Emory James wrote a rather lengthy article published in "The Strand Magazine" about a Professor Eugen Bormel, who was creating sand sculpture on the German coast at the North Sea summer resort town of Nordeney. He assures the reader that the good professor should not be classified with "the cheapjacks of the sands, who, for a hatful of coins and his bread and butter, deigns to display his artistic skill before the multitude." (Apparently Professor Bormel was renowned for donating all of his hard-earned pennies to charity.) His preferred subject matter - mermaids and renditions of the Sphinx - are still some of the favorite subjects of modern-day sand sculptors. The writer observes that the larger sculptures drew the most interest - something that has certainly not changed - and also rather dryly notes that "hair and lace effects are two things which the unskilled should leave alone."

By the 1970's, California became the site of a new kind of sand castle builder: the professional sand artist. In fact, the SSI (Sand Sculptors International) was created there by Todd Vander Pluym and Gerry Kirk to create standards for creating this type of art. They also organized teams of sand artists to create large, extremely detailed works of art. Today many towns witch have a beach host events and award prizes to professional and amateur sand sculptors alike.

Sand castles are generally fun little structures created by children to pass the time at the beach, but there are also professional sand sculptors who produce large, complex castles and other works of art from sand. Thousands of professional sand artists are commissioned to display custom-created sand sculptures and sand castles for all types of events worldwide.
This long evolution has resulted in a unique art form which is now called "sand art." It is defined as the practice of molding and shaping sand into an artistic form, such as a sand sculpture, a sand painting, or other form of shaped sand. A sand castle is one type of sand sculpture which is most of us recognized and may even choose to create.

The art of sand sculpting is unique in that a patron is able to watch the piece actually being formed and shaped as the artist works. This type of "art in action" is certainly fascinating for people of all ages.

Often famous sand artists are asked to create original displays that feature a specific brand or product, and to interface with the public and media to promote the sponsors of the art. These sculptures can be built indoors or out, and can be treated to last for much longer than a child's sand castle on the beach. The sculptures make great advertisements for companies because people never seem to tire of viewing this amazing and unique art.

The possibilities for creating with sand are endless. Sand sculptures can weigh up to 5.000 tons, and can be made in any shape or form imaginable to match a theme or event. Unlike the anonymous artists of the past, most of today's top sand artists earn a living from their work, and many compete for titles and large cash prizes. Hundreds of annual competitions are held all over the world.

Fort Myers, Florida hosts one such competition annually. Their American Sand Sculpting Championship & Beach Festival is held each year in November and generally draws close to 100,000 participants. A dozen or more of the world's top Master Sand Sculptors generally participate, creating their masterpieces on the sandy beaches of the town, each hoping to win a large prize.

Like most sand sculpting events, the Championship is open to the public and is free. The sculptures are on display behind velvet ropes to protect them from the audience. However, paying a small fee entitles you to a VIP pass, which allows you to take a step behind the ropes and get up close and personal with the masterpieces and the sand masters who created them.

As in most sand sculpting competitions, the rules require the finished sculpture to be sprayed with a sealer, usually water and glue mix. This protects the sculpture from the elements and preserves it for the judges and spectators to view. Sealed sculptures can hold their shape for months.

Amateur castle builders can also enroll is a separate competition on a different section of the beach. Smaller prizes are awarded to the winners of these events, but it's a great way to get some experience and build a reputation in this unique art medium.

Described as the largest sand sculpture event in the world, the International Sand Sculpture Festival or Festival Internacional de Escultura em Areia (FIESA) has been held in Pêra, Algarve, Portugal annually since 2003. The site occupied 15,000 square meters. Each year about 60 artists use 35000 tons of sand to create 50 works of art. The exhibition is also open in the evenings with atmospheric lighting.