Commentary: Just another day on Siesta Beach

Writer makes friends with a sand-sculpting team

Cliff and Ruth work on a sculpture at Siesta Public Beach. Photo contributed by Harriet Cuthbert

I have written many articles about our magnificent Siesta Beach, and I also have enjoyed writing about our annual Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, which has become as famous and well known as the beach.

Recently, I noticed a couple at the water’s edge, enjoying the beach in their own unique way. She was dressed in very tight leggings that had an unusual blue and white mosaic design. Her scooped-neck top was aqua with artistic and whimsical paintings of birds cheerfully looking outward as the birds nestled on a rainbow. Her bright blue Panama hat — with a blue sash around it — completed her very interesting and memorable outfit.

The woman was lying in what looked like a nondescript pile of sand, trying to be very still and silent.

At the same time, he — wearing a long-sleeve jersey with blue body and neon green sleeves, khaki shorts and a straw hat with feathers — was composing his sand sculpture of the day.

As I watched them work, I snapped a few photos with my phone. Immediately afterward, the girl raced over to me, gave me her phone number and told me to send her the photos ASAP! Thus began my friendship with Ruth and Cliff.

Ruth, who grew up in Philadelphia, spent her childhood summering on the beaches of Atlantic City, where her love of sand and the ocean began. Ruth’s full-time profession is working as an artist’s model at Ringling College, which she has done since 2002.

She met Cliff about two years ago on Siesta Beach. They bonded over their love of our sand and famous artists whose work they both admired. When he told her he was looking for a model for his sculpting, their friendship really began.

Cliff explains facets of this mermaid design. Photo contributed by Harriet Cuthbert

Cliff comes from the Boston area. He is a retired computer software designer who has been doing sand sculpting for a long time. He says he enjoys the feel — the texture — of sand and how it is constantly changing.

When Cliff works at the beach, he typically creates a mermaid, but each one has a different look or a different pose, and that is where Ruth comes in. She is Cliff’s muse. She poses for him directly on the sand. He “arranges” her according to the design he has in mind. He calls himself an Impressionist, based on how he interprets Ruth’s poses.

They are definitely a team.

Cliff does compete in the Siesta Beach Amateur Sand Sculpting competition, which Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department conducts every May. He has won first place many times, though never using mermaids, which he reserves for Sundays at the beach.

I wish him and Ruth all the best in upcoming events.