Sand Sculptor John Gowdy Creates Beach Masterpiece in Ocean City

first_imgBy Tim KellyJohn Gowdy first started messing around with sand at the age of three, with the standard bucket and hand shovel, according to a photo caption on his web page.Gowdy, now 59 and one of the most renowned artists of the medium, didn’t get serious about sand sculpting until he was parked on an Atlantic City beach and needed something to entertain his twin baby daughters Kelly and Jennifer.“You know how you dig a hole and let it fill up with ocean water and kind of make a bathtub?” he asked. “I did that as a diversion for my kids on the beach. Well, you dig a hole like that and you make a pile of sand.  Then you start molding it and adding some shells or Popsicle sticks and stuff like that. And then you start making sand castles.”In between that that first sculpture in 1986 on Albany Avenue beach in his native AC and his present day Veterans-themed creation at Moorlyn Terrace next to the Music Pier, Gowdy estimates he has sculpted more than 100 masterpieces around the world. In the process, he became one of the most recognized and decorated artists in the medium.Over the years he has numerous international sand sculpting championships including competitions in Canada, France and Italy, where he met and now resides with wife Laura, as well as events in numerous beach towns in the United States.Gowdy was a 27-year veteran Atlantic City firefighter and former member of the AC Beach Patrol and “always felt pretty comfortable around sand,” he said. A trained painter with an art degree from Stockton College (now University), Gowdy made an easy transition from two-dimensional paintings to sculpting sand.“I always incorporated things like light and shadows and vanishing points to give my paintings a feel of three-dimensions,” he said. “But sculpting actually provides it. I think most people are more comfortable living in three dimensions,” he said with a laugh.The Ocean City sculpture is a combination logo to commemorate Saturday’s Walk for the Wounded, and a tribute to the U.S. Military. At the base of the rectangular logo is a massive depiction of the Purple Heart medal awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in action.Operation First Response’s three-mile walk on the Boardwalk is now in its 8th year.  Its objective is to raise awareness to the plight of wounded returning U.S. servicemen, and to raise funds to help the veterans’ and their families’ critical needs. Registration is at 8:30 and the walk itself steps off at 10 a.m.Gowdy’s creations are limited only by his boundless imagination. They included a stature of King Neptune, busts of the Pope and the goddess Medusa, tributes to firefighters and whimsical fantasy themed sculptures, just to name a few. He also does corporate logos, birthday parties and sand sculpting lessons. But even with such diversity, for John it all comes back to that original Albany Avenue “bathtub” and sand castle. Not so much the sculpted object itself, but its effect on people.“I was immediately struck by how a sand sculpture captivates people,” he said. “As soon as (the work begins to take shape) you start drawing a crowd and people want to engage.”As a result, he often has to post a sign asking onlookers not to interrupt him. He graciously multi-tasked on Thursday as he spoke to a reporter while putting the finishing touches on his Walk for the Wounded piece.More than a half century after filling his first sand bucket, John still works with a plastic container, some water and a variety of sculpting tools. But the stakes have become higher.  Commissioned pieces and international competitions bring remuneration and acclaim.  There is a sand sculpting “circuit” of events and competitions around the world and John is an established star of the genre.Sand sculpting afforded him the opportunity to travel the world and meet his wife and settle in a small Italian town near Venice. “She gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “Italy makes me feel really peaceful and it has a surprising number of great beaches.  It is known for a (rugged terrain) but with all that coastline there are actually some really nice sand beaches.”In addition to sand sculpting and painting, Gowdy also carves art pieces in granite.In 2014 he organized the first World Cup of Sand Sculpting and brought it to his hometown of Atlantic City. The event drew more than 20 of to the top sculptors from around the world and more than 250,000 visitors, he said.  The event was repeated the next year and he is currently shopping for a home for the 2016 contest.In the meantime, Gowdy is thrilled to be back in his native New Jersey and working with the fine white sand of Ocean City’s award-winning beach.“Italy is wonderful but sometimes the language gives me a little bit of trouble,” he said. “It’s nice to understand what people are saying to me as I work.”last_img

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