Thursday, October 24, 2013

Barbecue Sandscapes

Imagine turning a passion for playing in the sand into your life's profession.

That's pretty much what Greg Glenn and his wife, Brandi, have done.

Brandi (left) and Greg Glenn work on this year's sand sculpture.
The Glenns are the people you can watch right now, right here in Lexington, turning a mishmash mountain of sand into an impossible work of art. They are the sand sculptors from San Luis Obispo, California, who annually come a week or so before the Barbecue Festival and create those much-looked-forward-to masterpieces on the lawn in front of the former (logically enough, it would seem) Arts Center building on South Main Street.

"Greg does the heavy lifting," said Brandi, "and I do the detail work."

All this magic began nearly 30 years ago when Greg, a land surveyor by trade and training, was messing around in the sand on the California beaches, and before long, started entering competitions.

Did he ever. His talent soon attracted enough attention to where people would actually pay him for his creations. A festival here, a sporting event there, and before he knew it, he had quit his real job in 1991 to create Sandscapes, a business where they manage several teams of sculptors to travel across the country and go play in the sand (See here).

Greg Glenn works on the sand sculpture this this year's Barbecue Festival.
Along the way, he ended up winning 14 World Sand Sculpting Champ-ionships before retiring from competition about 10 years ago.

Brandi, an arts enthusiast in her own right, met Greg in 1987 and came on board with the new business. By 1997, they were married and working on projects together.

The Barbecue Festival is pretty much an annual event for them, and one they savor. This is about the 14th year their business has participated in the Festival.

"Lexington is one of our favorite places," said Brandi, who said that she and her husband have been cutting back working on jobs themselves as they get older. "The people here are really nice. We like the weather. The people who run the Festival are just top-notch and it's classy.

"And the Festival itself is just a blast," said Brandi. "It's a lot of fun."

The Glenns, who are staying at the hotel at Vineyards Crossing while they're here, began this year's sculpture on Sunday. They will continue working right up until Saturday morning, putting in the final touches as 200,000 or so people mill around.

"That way we're still here while people can ask us questions and see how we do things," said Greg. "I don't mind working in front of a crowd. We do it all the time. It's been the same questions (including my own, it seems) for the last 20 years. We just carve and answer the questions as they come."

One of the questions I had was how do they get the sand to hold together so well. I mean, the sculpture is usually still standing two weeks after the Festival. How does that happen?

"The sand is compacted in layers," explained Greg. "We use construction compactors, lots of water, and the sand is rammed into these forms. Then we remove the forms and you sculpt into the block of sand. It's just very, very densely compacted sand.

"If we see rain coming we'll spray it with a sealer, which doesn't really stop erosion, but it does slow it down," said Greg. "But a really good rain will have its way with it."

The good news is: no rain in the forecast this year.

Clearly, this is not a profession — or a passion — built on shifting sand.

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