'Founding Fathers' sand sculpture ready for Three Rivers Regatta

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Did John Hancock, as he signed his name with a flourish to the Declaration of Independence, imagine that the moment would one day be depicted in sand?

"No, absolutely not," said Jill Harris.

Yet today, under a tent in Point State Park, that's exactly what she was doing.

Sand sculpture focuses on Declaration of Independence

Jill Harris, president of Sandsational Sand Sculpting, talks about a new ork that focuses on scenes from the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/27/2012)

Ms. Harris and three other sculptors are nearing the completion of a two-week project to create a sculpture out of 160 tons of sand depicting the Founding Fathers gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.


The sculpture -- featuring Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams and many other Founding Fathers witnessing Hancock sign the Declaration -- will be completed by Sunday for the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, in time for Downtown Fourth of July events.

As the sculpting team worked this morning, pedestrians stopped to watch Ms. Harris add button holes to Washington's lapel while Thomas Koet used wet sand to create Hancock's face.

"We consider it an art form, especially with the caliber of work that we are doing," Ms. Harris said.

The Melbourne, Fla.-resident was in the middle of a marketing career when a friend invited her to assist in a sand sculpture competition. The craft got Ms. Harris hooked, and for the past 16 years she has been president of Sandsational Sand Sculpting, the company she founded.

Sand sculpting, she said, is in high demand. Her company travels around the world and is booked two years in advance to turn blocks of sand into works of art using just sand, water and tools such as scalpels.

"Most people can relate to making a sand castle on the beach," Ms. Harris said. "We're just making a big one."

Last year, the first time Ms. Harris' team made a sculpture for the Regatta, they created a scene depicting classic American art icons. This year, Ms. Harris and her team suggested the Independence Hall scene, which they modeled after paintings by John Trumbull and Howard Chandler Christy.

As he created Hancock's face, Mr. Koet, an industrial design engineer by training but a sand sculptor for the past 13 years, consulted paintings of the Founding Father.

Hancock and his fellow signers might not have imagined themselves depicted in sand, Mr. Koet said, but they saved their letters, sat for portraits and wrote autobiographies, believing that their names and their actions would be preserved by history.

"They knew that they were doing something special when they were founding the country," Mr. Koet said.

Something that would last longer than a sand sculpture.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to http://press.post-gazette.com/ First Published June 27, 2012 7:15 PM


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