Pittsburgh celebrates bicentennial with sand-sculpting competition

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Pittsburgh celebrates bicentennial with sand-sculpting competition

Stephen Caruso | Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso | Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso | Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso | Contributing Editor

By Alexa Bakalarski / News Editor

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Despite being far from a beach, Pittsburgh is celebrating its bicentennial covered in sand.

For a week, beginning July 2, ten world-renowned sand sculptors are competing in teams of two to build sand sculptures representing Pittsburgh’s history. The Sand City Spectacular, created through a grant from environmental charity organization Colcom Foundation, ends with a festival featuring live music and food July 9 and 10, and the winning team announced Friday. The competition is located in front of the Carnegie Library in Oakland.

Each day, from about 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the teams will work on their sculptures. Passersby can watch the sculptors in action throughout the week.

Jonathan Visser, a Lawrenceville resident, heard about the competition through his wife, who works at the Oakland library and saw the sand arrive.

“I was raised on the beach, so I’m used to this,” Visser said. “It kind of feels like home. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do.”

The sculptors came to Pittsburgh from around the globe: Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, Canada, Japan and Lithuania, as well as the United States. In total, the competitors have won more than 50 international sculpting competitions.

“Pittsburgh has become a place where sand artists want to perform,” Jill Harris, from sand-sculpting company Sandsational, said in a release. “The people of Pittsburgh have embraced us from day one and really appreciate the skill involved in doing this kind of art and entertainment. We have told our fellow sculptors how enthusiastic and welcoming the crowds are and they are looking forward to having the same experience.”

The five sculptures will be 13 feet tall and 13 feet wide, each made out of 40 tons of sand. A first-place team will win $8,000 and second-place will take home $6,000. There will also be a People’s Choice Award, which will be based on online votes from the public.

Michael Dongilli, the Spectacular’s event manager and president of Vivid Pittsburgh, said each team is approaching the Steel City theme in its own way.

“All the artwork will be themed around Pittsburgh’s 200-year anniversary,” Dongilli said about the competition. “You’ll see a lot of bridges, rivers — not to give too much away. [The teams] all have their own themes.”

Team Three — Andrius Petkus from Palanga, Lithuania and Maxim Gazendam from the Netherlands — named their sculpture-in-progress, “Pearl Under the Bridge.”

“It’s not just about the history of Pittsburgh,” Gazendam said. “It’s more about the beauty of the city. The pearl can be seen as the city itself.”

Gazendam, who is sand-sculpting in the United States for the first time during this competition, began sand-sculpting as a hobby in 1998 after attending a workshop. After graduating with a master’s degree in architecture from Technical University in Delft, Gazendam decided to see if he could survive on sand-sculpting professionally for a year. Gazendam, who now has his own company, said “the rest is history.”

“I like [sand-sculpting] because it’s temporary,” Gazendam said. “You can reuse it. You can take this [sculpture] down and rebuild.”

Thomas Koet, who is married to Harris and also a part of Sandsational, began sculpting as a hobby about 18 years ago, after a friend signed him up for an annual sculpting competition at a Dutch beach.. Now, Koet crafts sand sculptures at competitions and festivals worldwide.

“[I like] the feeling of it,” Koet said. “It’s very physical. Whatever you’re doing, it’s in your hands. It’s very real.”

Koet — who is on Team One with Fergus Mulvaney from Dublin — said his team’s sculpture is named “The Renaissance of Pittsburgh.” “The Renaissance” incorporates three eras of Pittsburgh history: the British and French pioneers from the 1700s, industrialization and Pittsburgh’s current era, which places a focus on health, science and technology.

“The whole design is about rebirth,” Koet said. “Pittsburgh is always changing. The inspiration for the design was the contrast between then [during the early 20th century] and now.”

Koet has been coming to Pittsburgh to sand-sculpt at the Three Rivers Regatta for six years, which he said helped him come up with the theme for “The Renaissance.”

“It’s just a very vibrant, vivid, lively place,” Koet said. “It’s really a city that’s very alive.”

Sculpting will end at 3 p.m. Friday, when judges will inspect the pieces. The winners will be announced at an invitation-only awards ceremony in the Schenley Plaza tent the same evening.

On Saturday and Sunday, Schenley Drive Extension will be closed off for food trucks and live music performances, including Billy Price, Told Ya So, Kenny Blake and 2016 Pittsburgh “Battle of the Bands” winners Blended Reality.

North Hills residents Darla and Jeoff Allerton, who heard about the competition on Facebook, said they found themselves watching the sculptors work longer than they expected.

“Everybody can relate to trying to build a sand castle,” Jeoff Allerton said. “This is it on the ultimate level. [The sculptors] have got something in their mind and on paper, then they’re just able to create it.”

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