We’ve witnessed starfish and sailing ships, motorcycles and mermaids, cartoon characters and even a country western singer – all in the name of ephemeral artwork carved from mountains of sand. The specialists at Fitzysnowman Studios – aka Sean Fitzpatrick and his wife, Tracey – have stacked, packed and carved thousands of tons of sand during the past 10 years, while crafting hundreds of whimsical creations for Yarmouth’s iconic Sand Sculpture Trail.
As the artists embark on the trail’s 11th season, they’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the public arts project that has become such a cherished summertime spectacle.
The 2021 trail includes a giant octopus at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Route 28; a replica of Gammon Lighthouse at Strawberry Lane; and a lobster sitting in an Adirondack chair, eating a tub full of clams while drinking a martini. Ever cognizant of not spoiling a surprise, the artists didn’t want to reveal much more about this year’s creations, other than to say one of the sculptures will feature Grogu, the Baby Yoda character from Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”
A RACE TO THE FINISH
Sean Fitzpatrick begins the six-week process of building some 30 multi-ton sand sculptures every May, finishing in late June and ensuring that the completed Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail is ready for viewing before July, when Cape Cod’s tourism season kicks into high gear.
The ideas are hatched during conversations with the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and participating business owners, who co-sponsor the trail. After planning and sketching, the hard work begins – one sculpture at a time.
First, the sand is trucked to one of the sites and dumped in a pile, Fitzpatrick said. Then the artists begin shoveling it into flat forms to create the sculpture’s base – watering the sand and packing it down every few inches to ensure that all the air pockets are eliminated.
“It really is physics,” Fitzpatrick said. The artists use sharp sand, which packs down tighter than the stuff you find on the beach. When you look at beach sand under a microscope, you’ll see bits of shells, organic material, and granules that have been rounded by erosion from wind and waves, Fitzpatrick said. But the sand used in Fitzysnowman sculptures has “crisp, beautiful edges that stack and pack together,” the artist explained.
Once compacted, the sand is surprisingly strong, and allows for greater detail when carving, he said. The finished sculpture is then sprayed with a coating of water and Elmer’s glue, which seals out the rain and helps it to last all summer long. Two years ago, the sculptures stood up to midsummer tornadoes that packed 110mph winds.
The Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail’s largest pieces take multiple days to create, Fitzpatrick said. The biggest one, located at the Route 28 Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, uses roughly 15 tons of sand. It takes a single day to shovel the sand and compact it, followed by three days of carving. Two other large sculptures – located at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port and at the Route 6 Visitor Center – use roughly 5 tons of sand each and take two days to create – a half-day for packing and a day-and-a-half for carving. Other sculptures at local businesses are finished in a single day. They each use roughly 3 tons of sand, which takes two or three hours to shovel and pack, leaving about 6 hours for carving, Fitzpatrick said.
Once the process begins, the artists work six days per week to meet their June deadline. There are a few extra days built into the schedule to compensate for stormy weather, Fitzpatrick said.
SPECTATORS MAKE SCULPTING A JOY
Last year’s trail was reduced in scope due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, featuring just 17 sculptures. This year, 32 sculptures will be returning. Fans are coming back, too.
“It’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s nothing better about this job than the people I get to meet when they come by and say thank you,” he said. “That is just the best.”
Fitzysnowman Studios, located in Saugus, also creates snow and ice sculptures, 3D murals, and elaborate pumpkin carvings.
Each year, the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce runs a photo contest in conjunction with the Sand Sculpture Trail, awarding prizes to those who contribute the best photos. Find entry instructions and additional info on the YCC website.
The Yarmouth Chamber also provides a map of the Sand Sculpture Trail which is printed and distributed to YCC Visitor Centers and is available on the website in mid-June. The trail is partially funded by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.
Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.