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Sculptor sees staying power in sand (video)

By Elena Watts
Aug. 31, 2013 at 3:31 a.m.
Updated Sept. 1, 2013 at 4:01 a.m.

Sand sculptor Fred Mallett shovels excess sand into place as he works on the tiered castle sculpture he was creating behind the sign he had already made from sand Saturday during the Flip Flop Festival in Port Lavaca. Mallett spent the day creating the sculpture as passersby stopped to watch the sculpture.

PORT LAVACA - Fred Mallett molded 9 tons of sand into a seaside sandcastle Saturday at the Flip Flop Festival.

The free event also featured live music, a barbecue competition, a biergarten, food and gift vendors, a washers tournament and a fling flong contest.

"The sand sculpture was the first thing the children wanted to see," said Amanda Frost, of Victoria.

Her son, Elijah Goodman, 13, said he wanted to hang out all day so he could see the sculpture when it was finished.

The fantastical design included dolphins, sand dollars, shells and other fish bolstering an elaborate castle. Mallett, 55, of Port Aransas, created a sign with flip flops and the name of the festival first.

He has created sand sculptures part time for 14 years and teaches computer programming to engineers when he is not sculpting.

The large works of art can be created very quickly, which Mallett said is perfect for his limited attention span.

"It might take three weeks to create a water color," he said. "It might take three days to create a sculpture from 15 tons of sand."

Mallett said he enjoys the less permanent, ephemeral nature of sand sculpting.

He began practicing his craft with a group of sculptors called Sons of the Beach on South Padre Island.

However, all the castle sculptures began to look the same to him. So he began carving human figures.

"You can't imagine how many requests I get for mermaids," he said.

For events, Mallett must gauge his time and sand carefully. His goal is to complete the sculpture throughout the day while he interacts with observers.

Mallett manipulates the mixture of sand and water with nothing but simple tools and his hands. Forms, boxes and buckets are used in many of his creations.

To prolong the life of his work, Mallett sprays it with a mixture of water and Elmer's glue, which is biodegradable, to hold in the moisture.

He also practices soft-pack sculpting, a method that allows only the use of tools, hands, sand and water.

Actually, Mallett has been the national soft-pack champion for the last two years.

He has created his sand sculptures in Canada, Italy, Portugal and Spain, in addition to the United States.

In competitions, first place prizes can range from $1,000 to $7,000.

In 2007, Mallett created a sculpture after his mother died called "I'm Fine." Four faces represented the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression and acceptance.

His wife, Susan Mallett, who accompanies her husband to events and competitions whenever she can, said his macabre year was 2008.

His sculpture "Everyone Needs a Hobby," featured the Grim Reaper catching butterflies.

The same year, Mallett's "Naughty is Nice" sculpture won the people's choice award at a contest in Fort Myers, Fla. The design featured Mrs. Claus on the Jenny Craig diet, sitting on Santa Claus' lap with one shoe flirtatiously dangling from her foot.

"She got all the presents the bad kids didn't get," Susan said.

Another sculpture was Olympic-themed. It featured a man's head in a guillotine and a henchman taking score on his long scroll. A ramp extended below the executioner's device to a row of bowling pins.

The biggest sculpture Mallett has created used 900,000 tons of sand. The four-story creation covered half a city block and depicted the history of Portugal. About 60 sculptors and helpers worked on the project.

His largest solo sculpture used 40 tons of sand. A charity in Pennsylvania hired him to create an underwater shipwreck scene for its event.

The charity hired him again this year to create Egyptian-themed sculptures for its October fundraiser.

"Sand sculpture is something creative that people can watch while the artist interacts with them," said Jennifer Schulte, festival director. "It's not something you see every day, not even on the coast."

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