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Sand sculptors amp up for the Crystal Classic

People come from around the region to marvel at the sensational sand sculptures, take sand sculpting lessons and enjoy the beach at the annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic.

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  • | 1:38 p.m. November 7, 2022
In 2021, Karen Fraclich and Dan Belcher won for their creation “Skull Duggery.” (Courtesy photo)
In 2021, Karen Fraclich and Dan Belcher won for their creation “Skull Duggery.” (Courtesy photo)
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As if sculpted in marble instead of pristine white sand, the sensational sculptures displayed at the Siesta Key Crystal Classic — from hyper-realistic castles to mystical mermaids — wow spectators from across the region and state every winter.

In November, the 12th annual event on Siesta Key Beach features 24 amateur and master sand sculptors armed with shovels, brushes and tiny spatulas. The artists will build eight solo sculptures and eight team sculptures (some reaching 10 feet high) and transform the beach into a waterfront art gallery.

“This is one event you don’t want to miss. It’s by far the largest and most unique event held on Siesta Key,” says Ann Frescura, the executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, who chairs and oversees the fundraising efforts for the Crystal Classic. “Siesta Beach sand is perfect for sculpting because it’s made of 99% quartz, which is brilliant white and remains cool to the touch.”

In 2021, Thomas Koet received People’s Choice award for “A Rose Without Thorns.” (Courtesy photo)
In 2021, Thomas Koet received People’s Choice award for “A Rose Without Thorns.” (Courtesy photo)

People come from across the region to watch artists turn their raw visions into striking 3-D sand marvels. They also enjoy judged competitions, live music and sand sculpting lessons and demonstrations.

Founded in 2010, the Crystal Classic began as a collaboration between Siesta Key resident and master sand sculptor Brian Wigelsworth, the Siesta Key and Sarasota chambers of commerce, Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, and the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Now a partnership between the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and Siesta Beach Festival Inc., the event (with its competition modeled after those in Texas, Virginia, Washington and Fort Myers) aims to promote area tourism.

Last year, the Crystal Classic welcomed more than 30,000 attendees and generated millions in economic impact for the local community. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Student Scholarship Fund at Ringling College of Art and Design.

“The Siesta Key Chamber sincerely appreciates the hard work and support of the committee, board of directors, sponsors and 300-plus volunteers,” Frescura says. “Their time, service and contributions are invaluable to the continued success of the event.” 

Andy Daily, a master sand sculptor and the “sand manager” coordinator for the event, is a Siesta Key native with Sandventure Sand Sculpting. He selects the 24 Crystal Classic artists (who hail from around the globe), offers sculpting lessons and helps lay the groundwork (from building sand plots to installing water lines) for the event. An accomplished illustrator, as well as a portrait and tattoo artist, Daily has been a practicing sand sculpting professional since 2011, and he was featured on the Travel Channel TV’s “Best in Sand” show.

“This event is the hardest two weeks of my entire year, and there are so many moving parts that I can’t really rest until the awards ceremony,” Daily says. “It’s certainly a group effort, and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the wonderful people working there are the driving force that make it come together. I love being a part of something bigger than myself.”

The event is also significant for Daily because it’s a huge boon to his hometown.

“I grew up on Siesta Key and have watched it grow from the sleepy island of my youth into the No. 1 beach in America,” Daily says. “Our quartz sand is exceptional for sand sculpture and being part of this event is a joy for me.”


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