Sand sculpting masters carve in Olympia

If you can’t make it to the beach, then bring the sand to the city — 150 cubic yards of it.

That’s how much grit the Hands On Children’s Museum will pile on its downtown site for its annual Sand in the City fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday.

In years past, local businesses have sponsored teams of local amateurs who have tried their hands at sand sculpting. But for this weekend’s 14th iteration of the museum’s signature event, they’ve called in the pros.

“This year we are bringing in top sand sculptors from all over the West Coast to show off their talents and take it up a notch,” said Jillian Henze, the museum’s communications director. “The whole idea is to show off their skills.”

One of those sculptors is Yacolt resident Bert Adams, the creator of Sand in the City. He’s invited 14 other sculptors to compete as a single or in pairs.

“Most of the folks I’m inviting are people I know from the sand world or graduates of Sand in the City,” Adams said.

Adams created the first Sand in the City in Portland in 1996. There are now eight held annually around North and South Americas, including the one in Olympia.

Most of the events still use corporate-based teams as part of their fund-raising apparatus. “Almost anybody with a few tools and a little bit of skill can make a great sand sculpture,” Adams said.

Some of those amateur teams have gone on to produce master sculptors who go on to compete.

“It’s not uncommon to see them competing against the ‘world’s greatest,’”Adams said. At a recent competition in Texas, a third of the competitors were Sand in the City graduates, he said.

One of those amateurs-turned-pro is Elizabeth Diane, the owner of Olympia’s Lucid 9 Design. She served as a team architect or adviser for more than 10 years at Olympia’s Sand in the City.

“I loved it,” Diane said. “It was so exciting and we had so much fun. By the end of it, everybody was amazed by what we created. We’d always pull it off.”

Adams asked Diane to carve at this year’s Sand in the City but out-of-town obligations prevented her participation. “I hope it retains the same community feel because so many people knew the builders,” Diane said.

Adams said the switch to master sculptors will produce several changes in Olympia this year. Previously, the teams had been given five cubic yards of sand. This year solo carvers will have 10 cubic yards and pairs will have 15 cubic yards.

Aside from grander dimensions, Adams said there will be a higher quality of carving – and a different time schedule. The sculptors will start working on Saturday morning and finish by 4 p.m. Sunday. Previously, they carved on Friday.

In years past, “When (the public) showed up, everything was done,” Adams said.

Some of the master carvers include formally trained Seattle-based carver Sandis Kondrats, Federal Way dentist Michael Velling, and Tacoma resident Sue McGrew, who was on the reality TV show “Sand Masters.”

The sculptors will create eight different sand sculptures, and Adams will make a showcase sculpture. The public will be able to vote for their favorite sculpture by paying $1 per ballot. The money goes to the museum’s free and reduced-price admissions program.

Not all of the sand hauled in is going to the sculptors. Kids who attend can hop into a sandbox and make some sculptures of their own. “Parents can get in the sand, too,” Henze said.

More than 40 hands-on art and science activities will be available on the museum’s site during the weekend along with live animals, music and Zumba.

During Sand in the City, the museum will offer a reduced admission fee of $5 per person for those who want to go inside.

A new section of the museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center will be open for the first time. It contains a gazebo, gravel pit, waterfall, stage, and giant tricycle loop. Polynesian-themed activities are on the schedule, including a make-and-take eruptable mini-volcano.

Eight vendors will offer food for sale.

The museum is honoring grandparents and grandchildren on Sunday with special activities designed for both generations to do together.