Interview with Brian Wigglesworth: Founder of Siesta Key Crystal Classic

Most seaside towns enjoy having playful sand designs on their beaches, while others, including Sarasota’s Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting Competition, host major sand sculpting events in which sculptors from all over compete against each other to create the masterpiece of the week.

by Tim Jaeger

Seaside towns enjoy having playful sand designs on their beaches, while others, including Sarasota’s Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting Competition, host major sand sculpting events in which sculptors from all over compete against each other to create the masterpiece of the week. Sarasota Visual Art interviewed Master Sand Sculptor and Founder of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic, Brian Wigglesworth, to get his take on this beautiful form of art and what it means for Sarasota.

sVA: How did you come to find sand art as your medium of choice?

I think like most artist’s you don’t choose your medium, your medium chooses you. Over the years I’ve worked in many mediums, from airbrush to stained glass, from block printing to large-scale murals, and of course pen and brush, but there’s something about sand, I seem to have a relationship with it. As a military brat I grew up in coastal bases around the country and spent a lot of time on the beach. I built things in the sand my whole life, entered amateur contests here and there but it wasn’t till I was in my late forties when I saw my first sculptures created by sand “masters” did I realize it as a true art form. It was then I learned the methods of sculpting or carving sand as opposed to molding it and my mind reeled with its possibilities. After only a few years I found myself in competitions with some of the best sand sculptors in the world who had been sculpting twenty plus years. I recently placed third in the North American Sand Sculpting Championship in Virginia Beach, and though the competitions are a lot of fun and a great place to express ourselves and our talents and socialize with fellow sculptors from around the world, commercial work and exhibitions is what keep our companies supporting our artistic endeavors.

sVA: Coming into its third year, what is it about the competition that keeps you inspired to continue putting on this event?

I originally designed this event during the peak of our last economic downturn, when the housing market was strained and the increase in newly empty store fronts up and down Tamiami Trail seemed so depressing to me. I thought “we need to let people know around the country how beautiful Sarasota is”. Traveling around the country creating sculptures on other beaches I realized no two sands were alike, and no two are the same to sculpt with either. I’ve collected a small glass bottle of sand from every beach I go to and when you see them all displayed together no two look alike. But looking at that sand it occurred to me that one sand stood out as being prettier than the rest … Siesta sand. I thought to myself, “I moved to Sarasota because I visited Siesta Beach and I bet it was the catalyst for many others to move here as well.

So all we need to do is expose more people to our beach”. Seeing as our sand is super fine and has virtually no shell, and the beach is deep, attributes for making it perfect for sand sculpting event, I set out to convince others of the same. It’s first year it was a huge success and the next even bigger. Siesta Key was getting increased national attention. So now its a commitment to the community that keeps me going. It works. Except for a bit of traffic congestion, it really has no down side. It has exposed our beach to the world, though the number one beach designation had a lot to do with that of course, it’s it a wonderful gateway art form and how great is it to create something that so many people enjoy?!

sVA: Art and Siesta Key are two main attributes of Sarasota, Florida. The Crystal Classic brings those things together. What are your aspirations for the future of this event?

With Sarasota’s unbelievable art presence and art history starting with John Ringling’s astounding collection with his museum, the Ringling College of Art and Design, it’s stage theater and continuing today with one of the largest chalk festivals in the world and now a world-class Master sand sculpting event, I just really want to be a part of that growth. I love exposing others to this world of artistic expression that you and I love. I think “wouldn’t it be great to bring the Chalk Festival together with the Sand and add other temporary art forms like paper sculpture, kite making and maybe even ice sculpture, into one large ephemeral art exhibition?” The thing about ephemeral art forms, they tend to be so universally admired. How many art forms can you think of that can awe people from age 2 to 92, and on an equal plane? Because we all can relate to it, we’ve all set down on the beach or in a sand box and tried our hand at molding sand into something special to us. Chalk is very similar but I don’t know if it’s even to the extent of sand. It’s why, when I do a sculpture for a trade show or store display, that trade show booth is the busiest one in the building and why that store has increased traffic. Sand sculptures are attention-getting.

So that’s why I say sand, like chalk, is a gateway art form. It exposes people to great sculptors and great art on a level they relate to and hopefully love enough to seek out other art they enjoy. I hope to keep creating sand sculptures for trade shows, resorts, displays, fairs, festivals and weddings, so that I can afford to keep bringing sand exhibitions and these wonderful artists from all over the world, here to Sarasota.

sVA: What can newcomers expect this year?

Newcomers as well as those returning this year can expect to walk onto the beach and see a large festival atmosphere, a large sculpture garden, larger than last year, surrounded by tents full of vendors hand-picked by the event committee, lots of food and drink vendors, and they’ll hear music wafting from the large mobile stage we’ll have on the beach, hosting DJs and “live” music, including a performance by a Sarasota local, up and coming song artist, 15-year-old Olivia Thorning Little. Then they will see the beautiful sand creations by sand artists from around the world. From Mexico to Canada and from Singapore to the Netherlands and places in between. The artists carve for four days in teams of two to create sculptures sometimes standing ten feet in the air. There will also be an amateur competition on Saturday, as well as free lessons and demonstrations throughout the event where we’ll show guests methods that we use to create stronger and longer lasting sculptures. And I will be hosting a little just-for-fun mini event that I created called QuickSand! Where I will pit two sculptors against each other in a ten minute speed-sculpt of an item the crowd chooses and then they vote by applause for the winner. The crowd has a lot of fun and the sculptors get to get rid of a little competition tension. And for those with an eye for sports, local Siesta Key resident and professional volleyball player Megan Wallin is hosting the Crystal Classic Professional Volleyball Tournament just outside the sculpture garden, as well as free lessons and demonstrations. So there will be lots to see and do for everyone.

Third Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting Competition
November 8 – November 12th, 2012
Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota FL