Eva Cohen and her three children were celebrating the Fourth of July at the beach in Bal Harbour when they came upon a surprise: a 12-foot-high and 15-foot-wide sand sculpture on the beach near 98th Street.
The village commissioned the sand sculpture to celebrate the holiday, complete with broad stripes, bright stars and bombs bursting in air.
“We saw this beautiful sculpture,” Cohen said. “We didn’t even know. It was just a regular day at the beach.”
The sand sculpture also contained the new village logo as well as such national landmarks as the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. The village commissioned the Sand Sculpting Company for the creation after seeing a sculpture it completed during a commercial filmed in the village last year.
“When we saw what they built we wanted to have them back,” Assistant Village Manager Ramiro Inguanzo said. “It is a good way to introduce the new village logo to the community and enjoy a patriotic sculpture. The children can learn and hopefully build their own sculptures all year round.”
About 20 children learned how to sculpt sand into their own creations with the company owner Ted Siebert, who along with another sculptor spent six days creating the holiday tribute.
Siebert’s company, which specializes in creating custom sand sculptures and sandcastles worldwide, holds seven Guinness World Records.
Twenty-five years ago, he authored The Art of Sandcastling. “That was a landmark book,” Siebert said. “It opened the door for me to become a professional sand sculptor.”
The company also participated in the defunct Travel Channel reality show Sand Blasters: The Extreme Sand Sculpting Championship.
“They had us worked on sand sculptures and periodically blow one up,” Siebert said. “They wanted to see the heartbreak on our faces.”
Siebert has worked in 25 countries including Kuwait, where his company built the world largest sand sculpture in 2013. About 33,000 tons of sand was used on six acres, and 72 artists from 23 countries worked on it for two months. The sculpture was on display for four months.
He is on the road six months of the year creating sculptures for festivals, tradeshows, commericals, shopping malls and movie backdrops, Siebert said. An A-list sculptor can make $500 daily.
For beginners, Siebert recommends the best way to begin a sculpture is by using a 5-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out in order to compact about a cubic foot of sand.
“That is one of the biggest stumbling blocks,” Siebert said. “People don’t understand how we get the sand to stand so high. It is because we compact it.”
A novice can graduate to bigger sizes with a garbage can with the bottom cut out to allow for three feet of compacted sand. For even larger sculptures, Siebert recommends using a wooden form to pack the sand.
“We stack it like a wedding cake,” Siebert said.
It is also important to work from the top of the sculpture, Siebert said. Working from the bottom causes loose sand to fill in.
Several tools are needed for sand sculpting: a pallet knife that is commonly used for oil paintings; a margin trowel used in cement finishing; a level to make straight edges; a shovel; brushes and straws to blow the loose sand away.
“You want the milkshake straws,” Siebert said. “You don’t want the regular straws or you are going to get a headache.”
No matter how many tools a sculptor has, it is still difficult to stop the impact of the elements. Heavy rainstorms, wind, and freezing temperatures can affect a sculpture, Siebert said. Using a good quality of sand can also impact a sculpture. He recommends using sharp sand because it interlocks better, Siebert said.
“You can feel it on your knees when you are working,” Siebert said. “Ocean beach sand isn’t as good as river sand because the tide is constantly rolling back and forth and grinding against the sand.”
Even a skilled sculptor faces challenges when creating a piece. One such challenge to Siebert is giving life to a sculpture by creating a figure that is “relaxed and not stiff.” Another is carving a beautiful woman.
“It is really easy to make an ugly one,” Siebert said. “It has to symmetrical. The eyes and cheekbones have to be the same.”
Siebert would like to see more young people involved in the craft.
“I’d like to see kids play less with video games and do stuff with their hands,” Siebert said. “It is not a lot of young people in this business. I don’t know why. It is a great experience.”
Siebert may have drafted a new recruit in Bal Harbour: 10-year-old Yohan Cohen.
“It is fun,” said Yohan, who built a sand sculpture of the White House. “I learned how to build sandcastles.”