Annual Sand in the City festival opens at Hands On Children's Museum

Explore inside the new Hands On Children’s Museum at Olympia’s annual beach festival

Contributing writerAugust 23, 2013 

Olympia’s Sand in the City — a fundraiser for the Hands On Children’s Museum — is a bit like a day at the beach with sand to play in, sand sculptures to view, and a chance to see the denizens of tide pools.

This is the first festival since the museum’s new building has been open to the public. (The festival took place on the grounds last year, but the building wasn’t finished.) This weekend offers the first chance to experience its new Outdoor Discovery Center — although those who wish to check out the center’s first exhibits will have to pay the museum admission, available at a reduced price at that time.

On the sandy side, the festival offers three giant sandboxes, 13 sand sculptures created by community teams, and the opportunity to watch a team of master sculptors at work. There also will be a rock climbing wall, a tide pool touch tank and lots of live entertainment.

But the biggest attraction might be what’s inside the fence of the museum, where sculptor Patrick Dougherty recently spent three weeks turning vine maple sticks into a large work of art meant for children to walk through and explore.

“It’s designed with lots of odd doorways, some low, some tall, and with lots of open halls and some secret ones so that children could get lost for a minute,” Dougherty said last week. “But you can see through a window and locate your kids fairly easily even if they feel like they can escape your view.”

The sculpture was built entirely out of sticks, beginning with a frame of larger trunks partially buried in the ground to anchor them.

After using several working titles during construction, the artist has settled on the name “Muskrat Ramble” for the piece, which has a lot of visual movement and draws the viewer into its world.

Kathy Irwin, the museum’s director of exhibits and facilities, has wanted Dougherty to create a piece for the museum since she first encountered his work while visiting Morton Arboretum in Illinois with Patty Belmonte, the museum’s executive director.

“They had recently established a children’s garden,” she said. “Outside the children’s garden was one of Patrick’s pieces, and I just loved it.”

The museum’s new location provided the opportunity for the interactive sculpture.

“I wanted something that would appeal to the kid in all adults and also the kids themselves,” said Dougherty, who lives in North Carolina and has created installations around the world. “And we wanted something that announced itself from a distance, so kids will see it and say, ‘Mom, I want to go look at that.’ ”

The artist and a team of volunteers spent three weeks creating the piece, which will weather a bit with time but is expected to last at least three or four years.

“It’s all natural so it will biodegrade naturally,” said Genevieve Chan, the museum’s communications manager. “Our thinking is that eventually we’ll take what remains of the sculpture and make it into mulch and donate it.”

“Ramble,” unveiled Aug. 16 at a members reception, makes its official debut Friday.

Also opening Friday is the museum’s driftwood fort construction area, which houses large pieces of wood gathered on Washington beaches and includes structures that children can add on to, creating their own forts. The beachlike area includes a dry streambed with bridges over it and, yes, more sand.

Sand in the City

What: The Hands On Children’s Museum opens its Outdoor Discovery Center during its annual sand-sculpture competition and beach party that includes master sand sculptors, entertainment and activities for children.

When: Teams will build sand sculptures, and there will be a selection of family activities from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. The beach party will be from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, which also is Grandparents’ Day.

Where: Hands On Children’s Museum, 414 Jefferson St. NE, Olympia

Tickets: Sand in the City is free. Visit the museum and check out the new exhibits for a special rate of $25 per family. (The museum does not admit children without adults or adults without children.)

More information: 360-956-0818 or

Sand in the City Gala

What: An evening fundraiser gives adults a chance to view the sculptures in a relaxed setting. The gala features s’mores, fortune telling and music by The Beatniks.

When: 7-11 p.m. Friday

Where: Hands On Children’s Museum, 414 Jefferson St. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $95 ($85 for members)

More information: 360-956-0818 or

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