Two differently creative artists captured not only the official vote but also their competing peers' and festival goers' tallies en route to the doubles division victory at the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championships on the beachfront of the Holiday Inn on Fort Myers Beach on Sunday.
John Gowdy, who is originally from New Jersey but currently lives in Italy, and "Amazin" Walter McDonald of San Padre Island, Texas, combined efforts to collect top honors from the judges, the coveted Sculptors' Choice award and the People's Choice award. Their art titled, "The coldest sand sculptor in captivity," fit the "winter wonderland" theme and bested three other competing Master Sculptor pairings.
The title of the winning sculpture, which featured the castle handiwork of McDonald and the human profile craftsmanship of Gowdy, played off a nickname for "Amazin" Walter, who is regarded as possibly the oldest sand sculptor in captivity at more than 70 years old. Rounding out the top three doubles team placings were Brad Goll and Karen Fralich in second place with "Snow Queen" and Bert Adams and Guy-Olivier DeVeau in third with "When paradise froze over."
John Gowdy (l) and “Amazin” Walter McDonald showcase their doubles division title winner at the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championships Sunday. Titled “The coldest sand sculptor in captivity,” the sand carving took first place among four competing sculptures and notched the coveted Sculptors’ Choice award and the People’s Choice award as well.
"Walter is the oldest sand sculptor in captivity," said Gowdy. "Actually, I think Brad and Karen had a better piece, and they got my vote."
Gowdy, who had to rush back to the stage from a photo shoot due to his performance painting show called "Flying Colors," asked his sand sculpting partner to help him paint large portraits of famous people on a spinning canvas within a 10-minute time frame. The fundraising paintings are auctioned off to the highest bidder with proceeds going to a number of nonprofit organizations that greatly need financial support.
The two master sculptors were among 16 professionals that represented 10 countries and nine U.S. states during the competition. Combined, 130 medals and countless world championship titles are featured on the collective resume.
The final day of the American Sand Sculpting Championships also produced the advanced amateur Florida championships winners, the Quick Sand amateur winner and the announcement of the People's Choice Award (Canadian Karen Fralich's "Old Man Winter") for the singles division championships held last weekend.
The top finishers for the state competition were Todd Pangborn of Jamestown, N.Y. in first place ('A soldier's pride: Home for the holidays"); Andy Daily of Sarasota in second ("Naughty you have been"); Amanda Bolduc of Skowhegan, Maine in third ("Finder's keepers"); and Alan Eakle of Sugarcreek Township, Ohio, who placed fourth and took home the People's Choice Award ("The original white castle").
The Sand Lovers' Bill Knight, a master sculptor who along with his wife helped coordinate and organize the event as sand managers, knows the importance of starting at the amateur level.
"I know how special this opportunity can be because both Marianne and I started right here on this Beach about 12 years ago," he said.
The 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championships is regarded as one of the longest running sand sculpting competitions in the world. This is the first time in its history that the long-time event hosted both singles and doubles divisions. A 10-year partnership began this year between the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, Big C Events, Pinchers Crab Shack, the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Beach and The Sand Lovers.
"Never before had we had this many sculptures on Fort Myers Beach and never before has there been this many sculptures on any beach in Florida," said Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera. "This 10-day event is becoming a tradition. You can plan the weekend before Thanksgiving and the weekend after and everything in between for the next 10 years because the American Sand Sculpting Championships will be on Fort Myers Beach."
Nocera applauded all involved in the work, planning and logistics phases.
"We could not have done it without the more than 250 volunteers. From the boy scouts to the retirees and everybody in between, people have stepped forward and volunteered their time over the past 10 days," he said. "Thank you and see you next year."