Sculptors came from all over the world to compete in the competition on Siesta Key Beach.
Those visiting Siesta Beach over the weekend might have seen children using their dollar store buckets and shovels to create the perfect castle. Behind a blue fence were similar creations, though these appeared to have eaten their Wheaties.
Professional sand sculptors from across the world flocked to Siesta Key Beach to compete in the 10th annual Crystal Classic over the weekend. Artists competed solo and in teams of two for a combined $15,000 in prizes.
A portion of the event’s proceeds will be put toward a Crystal Classic scholarship fund to be given to students at Ringling College of Art and Design.
Artists are invited to participate, said Eileen Parkinson, an organizing committee member.
The artists are happy to come back because of the cleanliness and quality of the sand on the beach, she said.
Artists had around 17 hours over three days to make their creations, though the wind and rain Friday evening caused some sculptures to topple over.
“These sculptures truly are artistic endeavors,” Parkinson said. “It has to be a labor of love for all of them.”
By dawn Tuesday morning, all the creations had been knocked down with a bulldozer.
Solo expert: Going For Emotion
The 2019 Crystal Classic wasn’t John Gowdy’s first competition. In fact, it’s probably wasn’t even his 100th.
The retired firefighter from New Jersey reckoned he’d been to Siesta Key’s event eight or nine times. The sand in particular affords him a level of detail he wants in his creations.
That finer detail is important to Gowdy. Although he started more than two decades ago with static sculptures, his creative focus these days is sculpting emotions and evoking a feeling or mood.
This year’s sculpture was an ancient sandman figure rising up and being shocked to discover a small child building sand castles on his head.
“They’re both surprising each other,” Gowdy said. “It’s a comedy thing, relating to the sand castles here in Siesta Key. In our line of work, sand castles are kind of humdrum, but people relate to a sand castle. I wanted to figure it into a sculpture somehow while still telling a story.”
He sketched out the design to emphasize the sandman’s shocked expression and to figure out how to accentuate the shadows with the finished sculpture.
“I’ve been carving for over 25 years, six to 10 events a year,” he said. “You run out of ideas in a while; it’s been over 100 contests I’ve been in.”
This year’s idea, at least, was more than unique enough. Gowdy walked off with first place in the solo category as well as $2,000 in prize money.
Team expert: Vibing together
When Staten Island’s Matt Long first signed up for the Crystal Classic, he had a different partner and theme.
However, after his regular partner fell ill, he called upon his sand-sculpting buddy Bruce Phillips, who was happy to oblige.
The two came from opposite coasts — Phillips is from Carlsbad, Calif. — and met on the beach to discuss ideas. Eventually, they settled on “Yellow Submarine.”
“After day one, I didn’t know if I could muster a real interest in it, although I do love The Beatles,” Long said. “But after day two, he had me totally hooked. That’s what’s great about working with a partner: You get to bounce ideas and enthusiasm off each other.”
The duo was constantly talking to each other and joking with spectators, unlike several other artists who preferred to work with headphones on.
“I love interacting with the people,” Long said. “We’re not saving lives or anything, but what other job could you possibly have where all day long people are telling you how amazing you are?”
Amateur: Creative Castles
Ed Reed III considers himself a castle guy. The New England native, who now spends his days in Fort Myers, has been creating sand castles since he was young.
As he’s grown older, his ambitions grew larger. Reed went from creating small castles with a bucket and a shovel when he was just a boy to designing intricate architecture now.
It’s the shapes that attract him, the possibility to push the designs while hewing to a classic castle structure. Adding in eclectic angles and unorthodox curves is what keeps things interesting for Reed.
“Some guys keep them square, and some like to keep them round, but I like to mix it up,” Reed said. “That excites me. I surprise myself sometimes.”
He doesn’t participate in many events — you typically can find him making sculptures on Fort Myers beach. But there’s something about Siesta Key.
“You always learn [coming here],” Reed said. “I learn something every time I do it. I started with a bucket and a spoon, and things took off from there like a rocket.”