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Greg Glenn Is the Man Behind the Sand at Arts Festival

by on July 14, 2017 3:18 PM

The rain had just begun to clear, the sun started to emerge, and Greg Glenn was back to work on Friday afternoon.

For nearly 20 years, Glenn has been creating one of the most popular attractions at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts: the annual sand sculpture in Sidney Friedman Park.

But for parts of the day on Thursday, and throughout the morning on Friday, Glenn was busy making sure the sections of the 25 tons of sand that he had already started sculpting remained protected under plastic covers. Heavy downpours on Friday morning posed a particular challenge.

"I can't remember it ever being that rainy in all the years I've come here," Glenn said. "In this case it’s been spaced out almost perfectly so you take the plastic off and then, 'Oh, I’ve got to put the plastic on.' What happens is you end up dedicating a lot of your time to that, to dealing with the weather instead of sculpting."

He can't just schedule a rain date to pick up his work later, though. Each year the sculpture is a four-day job that he starts on Wednesday and completes by Saturday afternoon. By Friday afternoon the sun was out, but he still may need to make up for lost time.

"There’s no wiggle room there. I have to finish it," he said. "So if it’s a late night, it’s a late night."


Plastic covered part of the in-progress sand sculpture to protect it from Friday morning's rain. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

In addition to completing the sculpture to give festival visitors time to enjoy it, Glenn also has an early flight out of Pittsburgh on Sunday morning to head off to his next engagement.

The California sculptor is at the start of his busy season. After getting his start doing sand sculptures on Southern California beaches, he found his passion and made it his full-time work. In 1987, he founded Sandscapes, which takes part in events and competitions around the world.

Solo and as part of a team he holds 12 World Sand Sculpture Championships along with numerous other laurels. And Sandscapes is in demand around the country. 

Sometimes Glenn and his wife, Brandi, will travel as a team. He also has teams of sculptors so that they can have up to four or five projects going simultaneously. They average about 30 festivals and fairs each year, which Glenn has cut back from 50. 

"It’s one after another right now," Glenn said. "From the beginning of this month until the end of November it’s almost non-stop. Then we get the winter off, which is nice because we need it to recover."

The Glenns make their home in San Luis Obispo, a small college town, and that's part of the reason he enjoys returning the Arts Festival in State College each year. That, and the positive relationship he's built with festival organizers, including executive director Rick Bryant.

"I really like this festival," Glenn said. "I’ve been working with Rick Bryant so long and as long as he wants me to come here, as long as I’m physically able, I’m going to. He’s such a nice guy and I love the town. It’s a bit like my town. It’s not a huge city and it’s built around a college. I live in a town like that and it’s a similar feel."


Organizers of events such as Arts Festival typically come to Glenn with an idea, then he figures out how to make it work with sand.

But as the sculpture in Sidney Friedman Park was taking shape early Friday afternoon, he couldn't divulge exactly what he was sculpting.

"That’s like skipping to the last page of a book or watching the end of a movie first," he said. "You’ve got to be here."


Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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