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Digging into Siesta Key’s 10th annual crystal classic

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All photos courtesy of Erin Neihaus

  At the tenth anniversary of the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival on Siesta Key Beach, seven double teams and nine solo artists sculpted intricate people, animals and castles. From Friday, Nov. 15 to Monday, Nov. 18, attendees enjoyed four nights of live music, explored over 70 different product vendors and voted for their favorite sculptures. All art pieces were illuminated by iridescent lights at dusk after Siesta Key’s remarkable sunset. 

This widely attended festival offered ample opportunity for local vendors and international artists. Every year, small business owners can receive localized attention, small bands can expand their audience and sculpting artists from all over the world are recognized for their incredible ability. 

The sand masterpieces this year were beautifully intricate, and no two were alike. Two American artists sculpted all four members of the legendary rock band, The Beatles, inside the famous yellow submarine. Matt Long from Staten Island, New York, started using sand as an art medium 18 years ago. His partner Bruce Phillips is from Carlsbad, California has been in the business for 25 years. This piece was easily recognizable, and was a popular spot for attendees to snap pictures. 

On Saturday, Nov. 16, there was an opportunity for attendees to showcase their talent during the amatuer competition. The annual addendum can be a family bonding activity or practice for aspiring artists. Solo artist Bob Zimmerman from Indiana, who sculpted a lion he titled “King of Siesta,” noted how different artists sculpt the common medium.

“Everybody starts out with a big pile of sand. You have to use a lot of water to compact the sand, and from there, people use their own techniques,” Zimmerman said. 

Zimmerman uses his personal tool set. Included is a trowel, which he said he uses for leveling, and a straw for blowing away excess sand. He also uses a basic pottery set in order to carve and sculpt individual details on his lion. 

“I started doing this out of boredom,” Zimmerman said. “This is my first time pursuing any kind of competition. I don’t consider myself a professional. I enjoy doing this because I personally find it fun.”

The festival offers 15-minute lessons to teach basic sand sculpting techniques for those interested in trying it out. Each participant is given a small amount of sand and can create anything, with the help of sculpting teachers. This activity can be especially fun for children attending the event. 

Climate change and pollution was repeatedly mentioned at the event. Emerson Shriener from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Canadian Craig Mutch worked together to build a powerful sculpture about environmental issues. Shriener and Mutch engraved “Ice-solation” onto a block of ice, emphasizing how climate change affects animal populations.

Shriener gives sculpting lessons to eager hobbyists across multiple U.S cities. Mutch was part of the team that won first place in the Crystal Classic’s 2012 competition. He works as a set sculptor in the film industry and has worked on movies such as “Planet of the Apes.”

This festival is widely attended and anticipated every November. With attendance numbers increasing yearly, more people are eager to visit this beautiful site, especially during a time with exceptionally lower temperatures. 

Information was gathered from siestakeycrystalclassic.com.

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