Wednesday, February 6, 2013



It seems like just yesterday,
but it's now been 500 years 
since Juan Ponce de Leon
first explored Florida's east 
coast back in 1513. And
to commemorate the
Sunshine State's big 
anniversary, the folks
at the Brevard Zoo in
Melbourne have teamed
up with master sculptors
from around the world to 
present an exhibit that's
Simply Sandsational!

Headed by Master Sand Sculptor Jill Harris and World Champion sand sculptor Thomas Koet from Sandsational Sand Sculpting, the annual Art of Sand event has been delighting Florida enthusiasts for years. In 2013, the exhibit will be taking up residency at Melbourne's Brevard Zoo  from February 16th through May 27th. In commemoration of Florida's anniversary, this year's theme is WILD FLORIDA: Past, Present and Future.

Since my blog is recognized now as the 14th coolest destination on the Net, I received a personal invitation from Jill to attend the recent Art of Sand pre-opening "Press Day" at the zoo. There were TV news crews, well-known newspaper reporters and, uh — me. And (now) as an acknowledged media VIP, I was privy to all sorts of behind-the-scenes dish.

Thomas Koet preps for the 
2013 Art of Sand exhibit.
The sprawling WILD FLORIDA exhibit practically will make up its own park. A grand total of 15 world-class sculptures will be featured in this year's presentation — 13 of which will  be arranged chronologically to tell Florida's epic story. Additional guides, markers and sound effects placed throughout the exhibit further will enhance what certainly will be an amazing art-meets-history experience.

But I'm as personally intrigued by the preparation effort that goes into a production of this scale as the exhibit itself, and Ms. Harris was all too happy to answer my wide-eyed questions and reveal the "man behind the curtain" aspect of this year's event.

 Master Sculptors spend an entire 
week simply shoveling sand.
The initial preparations began in late December as brush was cleared, and equipment and sand were brought onsight. From there, 14 days were required to fully create the exhibit that is expected to attract spectators numbering in the tens of thousands. Artists spend the first seven days simply shoveling sand and addressing general prep details. The next seven days are spent focused entirely on the sculpting process.

"It's heavy, hard work," Harris offered. "And there is so much happening behind the scenes that most folks just don't realize," added Koet. But at the end of the day, this unbelievable effort is clearly a labor of love. "It's a group of eight international artists coming together with one common goal — to create something beautiful," Harris confessed.

Wooden reinforcements protect 
what soon will become sculptures. 
I had to inquire as to exactly what kind of secret formula is mixed with the sand in order to maintain its form.  "Water," Harris replied, seemingly astounded by my naïveté. "Water and compaction. That's it!"

But WILD FLORIDA is an outdoor exhibit. Isn't there a concern about these sand sculptures being exposed to the elements for three months? Harris replied — with confidence. "A regular rain shower is not an issue. The water drains through the sand."

Jill Harris is a Master Sculptor with 17 years 
of experience. And she wields her Hello Kitty 
shovel with the precision of a skilled surgeon.
Harris and Koet are both award-winning sculptors who travel the world year 'round, creating their unique art. And soon following the WILD FLORIDA opening, they'll be headed to their next gig in Biloxi, Mississippi — then it's off to an international event in Japan.

I appreciated the "Press Day" invite, as well as the hospitality that was extended to me by Harris, Koet and the Brevard Zoo staff. WILD FLORIDA: Past, Present and Future is shaping up to be a massive and impressive spectacle indeed. Personally, I'll be amped to experience the finalized presentation when the exhibit officially opens next week.

-Christopher Long
(February 2013)

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