Pier Pressure: $60,000 in Prized Art Destined for Downtown Destruction

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Crowds gather around sand sculpture titled “To Have and to Hold” by Abram Waterman of Canada at the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge at Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stone

By Chris Stone

Students, can you answer this riddle? What weighs 10 tons, involves elbow grease but also a delicate touch, takes large amounts of creativity and incorporates life and death?

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Answer: a romantic sand sculpture created by four educators.

“It’s like life. It’s here today and gone tomorrow,” said Daniel Gutowski, a PE instructor and administrative services supervisor at Miramar College.

He described his team’s sculpture, “Love Notes,” in the seventh annual U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge at the Broadway Pier through Labor Day — held indoors this year.

The work also honors Imperial Beach artist Chera Gleason, who died recently, Gutowski said. “This is a love note to her.”

Twelve master sculptors from around the world were invited to form 300 tons of sand into entertaining or thought-provoking works of art under the theme “Celebration” in two categories: solo and team competition.

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"Victory" by Thomas Koet was among the solo artist sculptures in the challenge. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Artist Rusty Croft of Carmel can be seen amidst his sculpture, "Existential Paradox," at the Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stonemore
"Love Notes" by the Sand Squirrels was being formed by a team of four artists. Photo by Chris Stonemore
"At Last, Altas's Last Altas" by Morgan Rudluff was among the solo sculptures. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Sand sculpting tools are on top of a photo of a sculpture by Brian Turnbough. Photo by Chris Stonemore
A partial face emerges from "Existential Paradox" by Rusty Croft. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Spectators took many photos of the sculpture "To Have and To Hold." Photo by Chris Stonemore
"He Left From Here" by Dmitry Klimenko of St. Petersburg, Russia's sculpture had a religious tone. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Food trucks, music and craft booths were offered at the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge at Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Sand Squirrel team members work on the heart and musical note tower of their entry. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Dan Belcher's "Liberation" is one of a dozen sand sculptures featured at the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge at Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stonemore
"Existential Paradox" by Rusty Croft of Carmel drew a line of people taking photos of it. Photo by Chris Stonemore
"Victory" was sculpted by Thomas Koet of Melbourne, Florida. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Meg Murray of Australia sculpted "Let's Dance" for the sand sculpting competition. Photo by Chris Stonemore
"Cerebration" by Leonardo Ugolini of Italy attracted many spectators at the competition. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Dan Belcher's "Liberation" is one of a dozen sand sculptures featured at the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge at Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stonemore
The U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge's art work can be seen through Labor Day at Broadway Pier. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Sculptures made by single artists and groups of artists can be seen at Broadway Pier through Labor Day. Photo by Chris Stonemore

Solo artists finished their creations Saturday afternoon after up to four days of craftsmanship. Team artists started Saturday, but must be finished in time for judging at 2 p.m. Sunday. At stake is more than $60,000 in prizes.

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The sculptures ranged from animals and angels to lovers and liberation. Also featured are food trucks, music, craft booths and kids activities.

Gutowski’s Sand Squirrels teammates are Peter Remenicky, an art teacher in Henrietta, New York; Bill Osborn, an IT trainer in education systems; and Meg Eckles, biology professor at Southwestern College, who started this collaboration 28 years ago.

“We worked at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach,” Gutowski said. “When we couldn’t get in the water, we used to do sand sculptures with the kids.”

The group entered the annual Imperial Beach sand sculpting competition and 10 years later took first. Sand has glued them together ever since.

Each team member works on a different part of the sculpture and then work together on connecting pieces, which can get a little edgy.

“It’s like ‘Don’t sculpt there. You’re going to cut off my ear! No, that’s my nose!’ It takes a lot of good, close friendship to pull this off,” Gutowski said.

The creative process started about six months ago with about 30 designs. Once a consensus was reached, a sketch was made of two people embracing — with the woman’s hair flowing to form musical notes that wrap around a heart and tower.

The hardest part?

“The pound-up is pretty grueling. We shoveled 20,000 pounds in eight hours,” he said. “We go from very rugged work to basically a delicate hand… We thought we would have a little bit more sand, so had to totally change our design and plan on the go. You’ve gotta deal with it.”

The team took sculpting lessons at Balboa Park’s art district and learned using clay. Their goal was to learn how to add emotion to their creation. But with the move to a different medium — sand — came a quantitative problem.

“It was a challenge because when you work in clay, you can add on a lot,” Gutowski said. “We’re in a subtractive art. You have a (sand) block and you’ve got to work from it. You can add on a tiny bit, but not a lot.”

The Sand Squirrels are up against I.B. Posse and Mission Viejo-based Archisand, both having competed at least 30 years, he said.

Sculptor Abram Waterman of Prince Edward Island in Canada had a different take on the art.

“The con is you are always fighting with gravity,” he said. “The pro is it is something that you can make large scale very quickly.”

“This is 3 1/2 days of carving. whereas if you are carving in wood or stone or another medium, you can make that weeks or months,” said Waterman, who took second last year.

He created a sculpture, “To Have and to Hold,” involving a self-portrait of a man holding “the little woman” in his hands with a look of delight. A married couple is carved into the back. Waterman was married last year.

Asked what he enjoyed most about the experience, he said: “The other sculptors are a lot of fun to hang out with.”

Gates open at 10 a.m. Sunday and close at 7 p.m., with the awards ceremony about 5 p.m. The event closes at 9 p.m. Labor Day.

Tickets are at the Broadway Pier, 1000 N. Harbor Drive. Adults are $15 plus a $1.39 fee; seniors 62 and over, $12 plus a $1.29 service fee; and children 2 to 12, $11 plus a $1.29 service fee.

Free admission is offered active military, San Diego police and fire department personnel and other first responders with identification. VIP tickets may also be purchased.

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