Sand sculptors carve new frontier in Pittsburgh

Three Rivers Regatta begins today through Thursday

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As Jill Harris and Thomas Koet unveil the 12-foot sand sculpture for this year's EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, they are listening for just one word.

"When people come here and they say, 'Wow,' that's what we want to hear," Mr. Koet said.

And as the Melbourne, Fla.-based team of Sandsational Sand Sculpting put the final details on the 12-foot sculpture Monday, the end product -- titled "America's Pioneering Spirit" -- surprised even the seasoned artists.

Sand sculpture theme revealed

The pioneering theme of the sand sculpture at Point State Park has been revealed, just in time for the start of the Three Rivers Regatta. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/12013)

"You're so focused when you're working on your one little area," Ms. Harris said. "We stand back and look and we say, 'Wow, it's great.' "

The team began with 160 tons of wet sand that had been sprayed with hoses and packed into a series of wooden shells to keep the pile in place. They began serious sculpting June 21, working from top to bottom and removing the wooden frames as the work continued.

Ranging from big shovels to tiny teaspoons, their tools became progressively smaller as details like faces and fur became more refined.

"I guess it's still a big pile of sand when it's done, but it's a more beautiful big pile of sand," Ms. Harris joked on the first day of sculpting.

As she finally sculpted the sand to look like rocks on the base of the piece, Ms. Harris walked past the figures of Lewis and Clark, along with their guide Sacagawea and even their dog Seaman. Mr. Koet paused from his work and pointed to the boat arriving on shore on one side of the sculpture and a covered wagon on the other.

"You stand in front of it and really soak in the whole spirit of the idea that we've got, everybody moving west, setting foot ashore, homesteading, exploring new lands," Mr. Koet said.

As the sculptors worked, the figures of fur traders and tall pine trees emerged just in time for this week's regatta and the Fourth of July.

"People love it," Mr. Koet said. "We've heard many people that like the ships. We've heard the log cabin, the covered wagons, everybody's got their own favorite part about it."

Just like the frontier itself, this year's theme allowed for a range of possibilities for the artists to create a panoramic scene of Western exploration.

"It's a very broad theme, and it's very inspiring," Mr. Koet said.

The regatta opens today and will run for three days, closing Thursday. In addition to the sand sculpture, there will be two fireworks displays.

To accommodate regatta events, Commonwealth Place will be closed from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday and from noon until midnight Thursday. Boats will not be allowed to dock, moor or anchor in certain areas designated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

For pedestrians in the park, the sand sculpture will be a unique exhibit. The team never reproduces its work, so this piece is the first and last time they will create "America's Pioneering Spirit."

"It's always a different shape, a different theme, a different way we tackle it," Ms. Harris said.


Visit for a video report on the sand sculpture.

neigh_city - artarchitecture

Megan Doyle: or 412-263-1953. This version corrects the name of Lewis and Clark's dog. First Published July 2, 2013 4:00 AM


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