Once again, Crystal Classic artists amaze visitors with their creations out of sand and water

Event this year featured more sculptures in competition

Maxim Gazendim of The Netherlands works on ‘Time Is What You Make of It.’ Photo by Harriet Cuthbert

Full disclosure: The Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival is my favorite annual event. I have been volunteering for it since its inception in 2009, and it never ceases to amaze me how the talented and ingenious sculptors stun us with masterworks made from just sand and water.

On the Friday of the event this year, I attended the festival as a visitor, wanting to see Ari and the Alibis, a phenomenal group whose band consists of Ari, the lead singer, and four other amazing musicians. They have released four CDs, and they recently were nominated for a Grammy. The audience expressed their appreciation with much applause.

When the band finished playing, I began my journey to check out the beginnings of the pieces that would be created. I want to emphasize that this is an international event, with entrants coming from as far away as Singapore and South Korea.

I recognized a few of my sculptor favorites from last year. With the theme focusing on the circus, I could already identify a few pieces, but the artists had a long way to go to reach completion.

The weather was perfect. The next day undoubtedly would be a very busy one for both the sculptors and the visitors.

On Saturday, Day Two, the weather could not have been more perfect for this wondrous event.

As I approached the admissions tent at 9:30 a.m., I saw the line forming and leading out to the parking lot. Nobody was complaining, though.

Melineige Beauregard of Canada and Andrius Petkus of Lithuania celebrate winning first place for ‘Alice Down the Hole.’ Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

We opened at 10 a.m. and continued selling tickets to a most varied and patient crowd, many of whose members were visiting for the first time and eager to watch the sculptors at work.

As I observed the people in line — all ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. — I could not help thinking that our festival really was the happiest place on earth — take that, Disney World! Even the tent selling beer and pina coladas was doing a brisk business.

When my shift ended after 1 p.m., I wandered around once again, to observe the crowds who were observing the artists — quietly and intently, smartphones silently clicking, people posing next to the creations, artists hard at work and concentrating on what they intended to make.

The circus theme was evident in many more pieces, and it was becoming easier to identify what the final creations would comprise. Titles are not required until the last day of sculpting, by the way.

‘The Tears and Beers of a Clown’ is a tribute to Emmett Kelly. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

I saw a few creations with clowns as their main subject and one — a tribute to the famous Emmett Kelly — really caught my eye.

It was still too soon to make a decision on the best. I could not wait to see the finished masterpieces the next day.

On Sunday, Day Three, the artists had to stop promptly at noon.

As I continued to be thankful for our phenomenal weather, I was stunned by the line of people waiting at 9:15 a.m.; it was even longer than the previous day’s line. Had I missed something? Was Jimmy Buffett really the featured musical entertainment instead of the groups on the list I had read? Did social media spread the word that there was zero red tide?

I wanted to get a head start on the crowds and be able to study each piece at my own pace and maybe have a quick chat with the artists. I got an immediate reaction when I looked at Man on the Bubble, so beautifully and simply executed, with faces jutting out, each with a different expression. The artists are Bruce Phillips of San Diego and Jihoon Choi of South Korea.

Karen Fralich works on ‘The Butterfly Effect.’ Photo by Harriet Cuthbert

The Butterfly Effect was ingeniously created by Dan Belcher and Karen Fralich, who was a previous winner. It was so graceful and delicate; it seemed impossible to be able to achieve that effect out of sand. The butterfly’s wings were perfectly formed. The story behind the sculpture, as I have learned, is that when a butterfly flaps its wings, all of Earth feels an impact — we are all connected.

I did not appreciate the piece called Out of My Mind until I had circled it to see how the artist had depicted a man going crazy. One could easily recognize the wild look in the eyes. The artist is from Singapore.

Another magnificent creation, called Tears and Beers of a Clown, was simply incredible. This is the tribute to Emmett Kelly I mentioned earlier, and I know Kelly would have loved it. It was sad and happy at the same time, perfectly attuned to a clown’s personality. John Gowdy of Italy created it.

I had an immediate visceral reaction when I arrived at a masterwork called Time Is What You Make of It, by Maxim Gazendia of The Netherlands. He and I agreed that time equals life. His perfectly carved Roman numerals inside his modern timepiece were extraordinary.

‘Let the Revolution Begin’ is the third-place team winner. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

Once again, festival favorites Walter McDonald and Abram Waterman were at the event. This time, their beautiful rendition of a castle with such intricate details seemed to be an audience favorite. The title, Let the Revolution Begin, was both amusing and puzzling.

Some of the artists strayed from the circus theme, but it definitely did not matter to us admirers. I am always amazed at the practically unanimous reactions of visitors as they view the sculptures. Everybody, including the children, just stops in their tracks to gaze up, taking in the beauty and originality of each masterpiece, created, as noted before, out of just sand and water.

Once again, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Visit Sarasota County have done a phenomenal job of producing a most successful Crystal Classic. Congratulations! I will see you next year. And, thank you.

‘Labor of Love’ is by Craig Mutch of Canada and DaeYoung Ji of South Korea. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

And the winners are …

On Nov. 11, awards were presented to the winning sculptors in teams of two and as solo artists, the festival organizers announced.

The Crystal Classic drew eight teams and eight solo artists from nations around the world: South Korea, Canada, Italy, the Czech Republic, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and The Netherlands. The U.S. states represented were California, Washington, Florida, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois and Texas.

Team sculptors Melineige Beauregard of Canada and Andrius Petkus of Lithuania, won first prize ($4,000) for Alice Down the Hole.

First place in the solo artist category ($2,000) went to Maxim Gazendim of The Netherlands for Time Is What You Make of It.

‘Ode to SATAO’ is by Rachel Clara Stubbs of the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

Other prizes and winners were as follows:

  • Second place Artist Team ($3,000): Labor of Love by Craig Mutch of Canada and DaeYoung Ji of South Korea.
  • Third place Artist Team ($2,000): Let the Revolution Begin by Walter McDonald of the U.S.A. and Abe Waterman of Canada.
  • Sculptors’ Choice Artist Team ($1,000): Alice Down the Hole by Melineige Beauregard and Andrius Petkus.
  • Second place Solo Artist ($1,500): Ode to SATAO by Rachel Clara Stubbs of the United Kingdom.
  • Third place Solo Artist ($1,000): Out of My Mind by JOOHeng Tan of Singapore.Sculptors’ Choice Solo Artist ($500):
  • Time is What You Make of It by Maxim Gazendim.
  • People’s Choice Doubles Team ($1,000): Alice Down the Hole by Melineige Beauregard and Andrius Petkus.
  • • People’s Choice Solo ($500): The Tears and Beers of a Clown by John Gowdy.
‘Man in the Bubble’ is by Bruce Phillips of San Diego and Jihoon Choi of South Korea. Photo by Harriet Cuthbert

“With the addition of a solo artist competition, we increased the number of individual sand sculptures by 25% to a total of 16 individual sculptures,” Crystal Classic Chair Maria Bankemper noted in a news release. “Following a difficult couple of months in the tourism industry, we were back to showcase Siesta Beach, the visual arts and our local businesses with one of the best sand sculpture festivals on the Gulf Coast,” she added in the release.

Ali and the Alibis perform on Nov. 9. Photo by Harriet Cuthbert