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California Sculptor Turns Fine Sand Into Fine Art at Arts Fest

by on July 11, 2014 1:19 PM

While most people in town for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on Friday enjoyed the selection of art, food and live music, Greg Glenn spent hours in the hot sun slowly forming 25 tons of sand into the shape of a rhinoceros.

Glenn says his sculpture is an interpretation of an illustration by James Christensen, one his favorite artists. The rhinoceros emerges from the earth beneath it in the Sidney Friedman Park, detailed with intricate lines that resemble a set of armor. Beside it lay a toppled sand column, while two birds rest upon its massive, arched back.

State College resident Cindy Warming, looking in awe on the animal, says it’s “really spectacular to think that anyone can do that with just sand." 

“I love how he feels like he has a personality, like he’s peeking out at you,” Warming says.

Glenn is no stranger to transforming piles of sand into works of art. Having grown up on the beaches of California, he’d been participating in sand sculpture tournaments for fun since the early 80s. After “an explosion in [sand sculpting’s] popularity for entertainment,” Glenn found himself working as a professional sculptor, turning fine grains of sand into fine works of art at fairs and festivals all over the country.

Everywhere he goes, Glenn uses tons of local sand to create his artwork. He says the Pennsylvanian sand he’s been working with since Wednesday “isn’t an especially strong sand,” and has required extra care.

“It’s very touchy to do this kind of work,” Glenn says. “There’s a lot of finesse and a lot of engineering involved.” 

While Glenn says sand “is not very forgiving” of mistakes as a sculptural material, it offers a kind of immediacy that more permanent materials like stone or metal lack. Instead of spending up to a year working on a single sculpture, Glenn watches an entire monument come together and fall apart over the span of mere days.

“For some reason, I love the impermanence of working with sand,” he says. “Either you’re here and you see it or you don’t. Either way, it’s not coming back.”

Though Glenn’s rhino may not be back once the Arts Fest ends, Glenn has attended for years to create his sculptures, making him a favorite at the annual celebration.

“Every year it’s just amazing the things they manage to make out of sand,” Dianne Leri of Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania says.

Glenn seems glad to be an Arts Fest favorite. Though he spends much of his career at similar festivals, he says the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts “is probably the best one that I go to.”

“State College is just a really nice town,” Glenn says. “Having a festival like this really helps keeps the place feeling vibrant.”


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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