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Creating art, grain by grain

ROAMING around the State Fair in Columbia, South Carolina, recently, my eyes focussed on one particular sculpture - it was a piece made from sand and water. It depicted the Chinese calendar, and the finish was superb. Its height was what made it unbelievable. But to Americans, such creations have become a part of every State fair.

Sand sculpture is an art, made only from sand and water with no binders or chemicals. The pieces are carved entirely down to the floor to create a full picture and not made to stand out against a pile of sand. Sculptors create art forms right in front of spectators during festivals and fairs and finish them prior to the close of the event. This attracts people to visit again to watch what happens in the end.

Sand sculptures are no longer confined to sand castles alone. Sculptors say, "Any theme you can dream up, we can create". Nature, fairy tales, celebrities and historic landmarks are some of them. Instead of repeating old creations, sculptors love to create a new attraction each time. They can customise the theme of the event.

What makes these sculptures so enchanting? The answer lies in the doubt which first comes to mind on seeing a sand sculpture. What holds it together? It is the blend of art and engineering which fascinates the public. If it had been made of any other material, it would not attract so much attention.

Sand sculptures are held together by water and compaction compressing. Water added to the sand loosens the pile of sand and softens the sediments mixed in it. Compaction compresses the sand further. As it dries out, softer particles fuse to the grains to form a strong bond.

Sand and water are filled in wooden forms, and then densely compacted with tamper or construction compactor. The process is repeated till the wooden form is full. Another wooden form is placed on top of this and the procedure repeated. Wooden forms of different shapes and sizes are used to suit the purpose. Depending upon the sculpture to be designed, many levels of formwork are done.

Once compacted, the sand is ready to be carved. The top wooden form is removed and the carving is done. Once the top block is finished, the next level form is removed and work continued. The sculptor moves down step by step and the bottom forms act as support for the upper levels. The process is continued till the base is reached. The sand, when it dries, becomes more stable - similar to the natural process of creating sandstone.

Sand sculptures are marked by minute details. Though sculpting by hand is ideal, to get a sharp, clean edge, additional tools are used. These are classified as found tools and speciality tools.

Found tools are those found at home like knives or forks or tools that can be easily fashioned from available items at the house. Speciality tools are those specifically produced for the purpose in different shapes and sizes in non-rusting material by sand sculpting schools and companies.

The beauty of this art is its impermanence since its durability is subject to the elements. The only way to save the sculptures in harsh weather is to apply a repellent or cover it with a tent.

But nothing beats the sculptors. They have created wonderful forms in adverse weather conditions successfully.

People have been creating magic with sand for years now and it has become a sport. World championships are held every year, which test creativity, technical expertise, stamina and time management. The world's tallest hand constructed sand sculpture was set in Duquoin, Illinois on September 2, 1998. Its height was 24.02 feet.

It was carved in 92 man-hours using approximately 200 tons. The world's longest hand constructed sand sculpture was created in Long Beach, Washington on June 3, 1990 to a length of 6.53 miles. Passion for the art has no limitations. The last world championship was in September.

Sand sculptures are educative, imaginative and a genuine media magnet, utilised for entertainment and promotional activities. Many sand sculpting companies have sprung up. All you have to do is to select the theme or the subject matter and the sky is the limit.


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