Beach Is One Big Sand Box

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By Steve Jusseaume

Hampton Union, Friday, June 20, 2003

Taylor Douglas, left, 7, and her sister Kami, 5, watch the sand sculpting competition before heading out to build their own sandcastles. [Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]

HAMPTON BEACH - Art Knapp recalls taking his 10-year-old son to Toys "R" Us one day 20 years ago and picking up a sand castle kit.

"Then, I took him to the beach," Knapp said. "Well, he never picked the kit up, and I never put it down," Knapp continued with a laugh this week as he stood beside a 7-foot-tall pile of sand that would soon be transformed into an American flag.

Knapp, a Vietnam veteran from Massapequa, N.Y., has been playing in the sand ever since, and is one of 12 master sand sculptors, all of whom have been busy this week working on a variety of sculptures during Hampton Beach’s third annual Master Sand Sculpting Competition.

The competition began Wednesday and ends tonight, with an awards ceremony at the Hampton Beach Sea Shell at 6 p.m.

This year’s event is Knapp’s second visit to the area. Last June, he incorporated a "Welcome Home" theme into his work. This year, he is working with a "Come Home, Daddy" theme.

"I wear this veteran’s hat all the time, so people have started to call me Sarge," said Knapp, as he mapped out his sculpture Tuesday.

"It’ll be 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide - an American flag with a man and a little girl in front," said the Long Island resident.

Knapp goes to about a half-dozen competitions per year, mostly along the east coast.

"This one has become my favorite," he said. "Virginia Beach in September is bigger, but Greg Grady does a great job here."

Grady, a sand sculptor himself, started the competition two years ago in conjunction with the Beach Precinct. A Hampton resident, Grady approached the precinct commissioners and marketer Bob Houle about the idea, and it has turned into a June tradition, bringing in tourists and media attention.

"We’ve got 17 masters here this year, though some came just to give lessons or help out on the community sculpture (which was completed by Tuesday). I’ve had responses from Italy, from Holland and Africa, people wanting to come to Hampton Beach. But we’re trying to keep the number of individual competitors down to a dozen," Grady said, taking a cigarette break Tuesday.

"The sand quality here is excellent; another attraction in Hampton is the beautiful beach. We’ve increased the prize money this year ($7,500 to $10,000), and at some point, we’d like to include team events. Maybe five years down the road, we may increase the competition to include 15 individual sculptors."

Randy Harvey is here this year for the first time. "I’m working on a rocky bluff, black bears a nude sitting on a rock with a pool below," said Harvey, a Colorado resident, who noted that he never sculpts the same piece twice.

Marc Lepire is back. Lepire, of Charlesbourg, Quebec, has competed for three years. He worked on a fishing theme. Lepire said he works mostly in ice. "I carve ice all the time in Canada, this is a vacation for me," Lepire said.

In 2001, Dan Doubleday, of Florida, took first place. Last year, Carl Jara, of Cleveland, Ohio, took the top prize. Michel Lepire, Marc Lepire’s father, won the People’s Choice award, and Tom Morrison won the 2002 Sculptor’s Choice Award.

Jara is back for more this year. Tuesday, he sat on the sand, bemused at the big, square pile of imported sand in front of him.

"We’re treated like gold out here," he said, relating an incident last year when Houle asked him if he needed anything.

"So I said, jokingly, (that) more than anything, I could use a digital camera and three models. So Bob said, 'What time do you want the stuff?’ I was stunned they’d do that for us," Jara said. "They give us anything we want. The sand is terrific, and the people are great. Most places I go, I get a billion stupid questions, but here I only get a million stupid questions. Most people seem to be pretty knowledgeable about what we do."

Jara wasn’t sure what he was going to build Tuesday morning, though he had some rough thoughts in his head.

"I play it as I go, but I have a little idea what I’m going to do this week," the sculptor said, who over the past two years has built what he called "socially and politically conscience" works that explore ideas.

"I want to do something big, something that looks simple, but really isn’t. Something more personal than before. Something that will get an emotional response from the people."

He mulled over a theme involving an abyss, an edge. "Last year, somebody came up to me and said, 'You know, man, your piece made me cry.’ I want to touch people like that again. You can’t touch everybody all the time, but it’s neat if you can touch just one person, get that kind of emotional response," Jara said, sitting in front of 10 tons of sand, staring out to sea in search for an idea.

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