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Jeff Strong puts the finishing touches on his 2010 entry. Photos by Rebecca Wild Baxter.
Siesta Key Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 10 years ago

Planning under way for 2011 Crystal Classic

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Imagine a massive sand recreation of the Marine Corps Memorial outside Washington, D.C., greeting visitors to Siesta Key Public Beach.

That vision will become a reality when the 2011 Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition opens this fall on the beach. The Classic will run Nov. 10-14.

“It’s going to be fantastic and a fitting tribute to the veterans,” Kevin Cooper, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said of Marine Memorial recreation.

This year, the event will be held on Veterans Day weekend, and the sculpture will serve as a tribute to local veterans.

“We’re working on getting a color guard out,” event co-chair Eileen Parkinson said. “We want to honor our veterans.”

She and her husband, Bob, also co-chaired last year’s event, which drew more than 40,000 people to the Key in November 2010.

Another significant feature of the 2011 event will be its inclusion of the World Championship Doubles Division.

Because of the Crystal Classic’s success last year, Parkinson said, the Siesta organizers were asked if they would be willing to host that international championship this year.

“We’re very excited about it,” she said, noting that eight or nine countries will be represented.

Of course, she added, “The sculptors are already champions in their own right around the world.”

The first Crystal Classic was proposed by Brian Wigelsworth, a master sandsculptor who lives on Siesta Key. Because of the quality of the barrier island’s sand, he wanted to see a major competition organized in Sarasota County. It just took a while for his dream to come to fruition.

Cooper said the organizers last year heard excellent feedback from the sculptors who participated.

“They just loved Siesta Beach (with) no shells, no trash, no cigarette butts,” he said. “They were just so enamored of the whole (event) … and of the area, too.”

Because event sponsors pay travel expenses for the sculptors, almost all of the 2010 competitors were from the United States. The organizers were wary of extending invitations to sculptors from Europe or Asia, Cooper said, because they were working to keep costs low. As it turned out, the 2010 event passed its break-even point with one day to go.

With even more excitement generated for this second event, Parkinson said, the committee was able to invite sculptors from Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Latvia, Canada, Singapore, Romania and Portugal, as well as the United States. Furthermore, organizers have secured several back-up teams, including one from Russia, should one bow out.

According to Wigelsworth, master sandsculpting competitions are far more popular in Europe, Japan and Russia. Italy and The Netherlands are the top hosts for these types of events, with China and Russia just behind them. However, the majority of venues overseas have to bring in sand, whereas Siesta Key has an abundance of sand, he said.

Crystal Classic organizers must obtain a permit to move the sand. During the organizing committee’s July 8 meeting, Siesta architect Mark Smith reported he already had spoken with state officials “and all is well with the environmental permit,” according to the minutes of that meeting.

Along with the Iwo Jima sculpture and the World Championship Doubles Division, the 2011 event will boast a few other new features, Parkinson said. “Quick Sand,” which will be held at least twice, will feature two of the master sandsculptors competing against each other to see who will be the first to complete a sculpture in response to an audience suggestion.

“They will work against the clock,” she said.

The second, called “Flying Colors,” will put the spotlight on sculptor John Jowdy, one of the event’s 2010 winners, who also is a performance artist. Parkinson said Jowdy is known for creating oil paintings within just minutes. His painting during the Crystal Classic will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Mote Marine’s Sea Turtle Program. As in 2010, that program will be the beneficiary of other proceeds from the event.

Finally, Parkinson said, three of the sculptors from the Travel Channel’s “Sand Masters” show, which features the creation of massive sand sculptures throughout the world, will be attending the 2011 Crystal Classic.

Still, Cooper said, the emphasis will be on the event’s sculpting teams and their creations. “It blows your mind,” he said of the work.

For details about the 2011 Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition, visit

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