WOODSTOCK – Some people play in the sand; others make a living in it.
Professional sand sculptor Ted Siebert has created more than 600 pieces in 35 countries since turning his hobby into a career 25-plus years ago.
He recently flew to Kuwait to help build the world’s largest sand sculpture park.
The Woodstock resident owns The Sand Sculpture Co. – a professional display company specializing in custom sand sculptures and castles created for shopping malls and trade shows throughout the world.
“One [sand sculpting] competition led to another one and then another one, and it just snowballed from there,” Siebert said. “Sand sculpting is a huge business, and my business hasn’t skipped a beat over the years.”
The son of a college professor who created metal sculptures on the side, Siebert and his family spent their “hideously long” summer vacations traveling from his hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to the West Coast for sandcastle competitions.
Siebert would go on to study art and creative writing at the University of Washington, but his love for sand remained. While cleaning up artwork for publication, he entered a sandcastle competition, and the rest was history.
The 55-year-old joined with some people he competed against and a person who lived next door to him, and the group kept on winning. Siebert published a book on sandcastles, created his company, and now holds seven world records involving sand sculptures.
“It was just a fun hobby when I started,” said Siebert, who relocated from Seattle, Wash., to Woodstock after getting married in 1993. “We were winning a lot. There’s fierce competition from across the world.”
Competitions have changed over the years from teams of as many as 10 to duos or solos.
“The old days were so much fun because it was more like an athletic event, humping water from the beach and packing sand,” Siebert said. “It is leaning more toward the art aspect now, with the cream rising to the top.”
Siebert divides his year, spending about four months on the road and the remainder working in the Midwest, working trade shows January through March, and festivals and fairs May through September.
The rest of the time he works other events or competitions, which this year included packing 15 tons of sand for a sculpture in Sioux City, Iowa, and Halloween sculptures for Randhurst Mall in Mount Prospect.
“A good sand sculptor can make $300 to $400 a day,” Siebert said. “To some, that is a lot, but to others, that isn’t very much. I do OK and can afford to put my kids through college.”
Living in Woodstock works for Siebert because of his proximity to airports and its lack of beaches.
“Sand is my profession, I don’t want to live near the beach,” he said. “One of our fantasies was to buy a unique, fixer-upper home and we found that in Woodstock.”
His biggest payoff may come from a project he is currently working on in Kuwait, which once completed, will be considered the largest sand sculpture park in the world.
The Sand Sculpture Co. recently agreed to a five-year deal with Gulf Technology in Kuwait for an annual sculpture park aimed at putting Kuwait atop the sand sculpture world, Gulf Technology’s Yousef Aldaour said in a news release.
The plan calls for 30,000 tons of sand covering an area the size of four soccer fields that will be carved by more than 60 professional sculptors from more than a dozen countries. The project will be based on the 39 stories of the “Arabian Nights.”
“Sand in Kuwait holds like brown sugar,” Siebert said. “This is going to be the biggest sand sculpture ever built.”
Creating the artwork begins with sand being packed into wooden forms before being tamped. The boxes, which can be as high as 50 feet tall, are then removed and carved.
Glue is not used during sculpting, Siebert said, but a sealant is sprayed on once the carving is finished.
Siebert expects to spend the next nine weeks in the Middle East.
The 2014 Remal International Sand and Light Sculpture will include a 10,000-ton central sculpture that is more than 50 feet tall and 2,500 linear feet of 10-foot-tall walls of carved sand. The park will include a sand café, children’s maze and the Aladdin Stage, which will feature 80 international performance acts. The project will include an array of lights and special effects from Germany and Dubai.
“This is an unprecedented undertaking,” Aldaour said in a news release. “Of the seven large scale projects that I am aware of in the world, none of them will come close to the volume of sand that we are attempting here.”
Aldaour had previously worked with Siebert’s company in Oman in 2003.
“Past large scale projects are often large bulldozed mounds of beach sand and the exact tonnage is only estimated, but we are far from the beach and all the sand has to be trucked in,” Siebert said in a news release. “In this case, we are actually measuring the exact volume of sand being used, and it is a staggering amount of material to work with. Everything will be formed up, compacted and then carved from the ground up.”
The Sand Sculpture Co.
What: A full-time professional display company that specializes in creating custom sand sculptures and sandcastles for all types of events worldwide.
Where: 327 S. Jefferson St., Woodstock
On YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/SandSculptureCo