A fragile beauty

Sculptors carve art from mounds of Revere Beach sand as spectators gaze in wonder at eighth annual festival

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By Brian Ballou
Globe Staff / July 16, 2011

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REVERE - The beach made a canvas, the sand was the medium, and splendid sunshine provided lighting for 15 master artists competing in the National Sand Sculpting Festival here yesterday.

“Wow, Mommy, look at that,’’ shouted one enthusiastic boy, pointing to a sand sculpture by Michela Ciappini of Faro, Portugal. Central in her piece was the face of a woman whose hair billowed up over her head and around her face, transforming into origami-like ribbons of sharp and flat shapes.

As beachgoers in bikinis, board shorts, sarongs, and sandals gathered around the works of art on display, an organizer lifted a small mound of finely sifted sand near the base of the centerpiece castle and divided it among several children standing behind the steel gate protecting the artists’ delicate works. The children held the sand in their palms as if the mounds were newborn chicks.

Fifteen artists worked throughout the day, taking only a one-hour lunch break. Yesterday was the third day of a four-day competition, which features a top prize of $5,000. Every competitor receives $1,000. The first- through third-place winners will be determined by the artists, according to organizers.

The annual event, which is organized by the Revere Beach Partnership, is in its eighth year and draws thousands of people over five days. Judging and voting is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. today. The festival ends tomorrow at 6 p.m., and the sculptures will remain on the beach until they deteriorate.

Reigning Revere Beach champion Jonathan Bouchard of Montreal was creating a turtle with a futuristic shell resembling interlocking vertebre. As spectators stared in amazement, Bouchard shifted his attention between a black-and-white photo of a sea turtle and a mound of sand that would become the animal’s head. With his hand trowel, he crisscrossed the air over the photo and then drew those lines in the sand, but with wider strokes.

Another hit with spectators was a work that depicted a dreamy sea gathering of fish, octopi, and deep-sea crusteaceans amid coral on a tubelike formation.

Artist Chris Guinto of Key West, Fla., slid through a sliver of an opening into the middle of the tube. Wearing bulky headphones, he whisked away at the sand with a brush.

Beyond the sculptures, people lay on the beach working on tans or danced to pop music blaring from massive speakers. Near the street, hundreds of people walked through tents to look at art on display or stop at food booths to eat sausage, grilled corn in the husk, or ice cream.

Most of the artists have more than two decades of experience working with sand. Some, including Revere resident Matthew Martelli, work with other media, such as oil paint.

Dan Belcher of St. Louis has twice finished second and once placed fifth. Like the other artists, he hopes to win the top prize this time around.

“I don’t really look at the others while I’m working,’’ he said. “At the end, we will all get to judge them.’’

Belcher said he developed a love for sand as a child in the sandbox. “And when I went to college, I saw someone doing professional sand sculptures, and I asked how I could get into it, because I’ve always loved sand and sculpting. I was able to volunteer for a few professional projects, and 20 years later, I’m still doing it.’’

He said the inspiration for his work, a windswept mural, was the series of devastating storms that hit the Midwest this year.

Looking at the crowds, he said: “They’re great; they really love it and get into it. Year after year their appreciation and understanding of it grows.’’

Brian Ballou can be reached at