For Todd Pangborn, the dream of becoming a master sand sculptor is a little closer to becoming a reality.
In November, Pangborn entered the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. At the competition, Pangborn took first place in the advanced amateur state championships.
"Four masters were doing the judging for the event, and if you won the competition as an advanced amateur, part of the judging was that you could become a master yourself," said Pangborn. "Out of the four votes needed from the masters to become a master I received two saying I was good enough, and two that said I wasn't quite there yet. So, next year I'll reenter the competition as an advanced amateur again in hopes that it's determined that I'm good enough, because I want to be known as a good sculptor at the master level."
Pictured is Todd Pangborn with his wife, Lori, and daughter, Jessica, at the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Pangborn took first place in the advanced amateur state championships with the pictured sand sculpture.
Although Pangborn didn't become a master during the competition, he plans on continuing to hone his artistic craft by practicing with 7 tons of sand that he has at home. He used the sand at home, which he acquired from Jamestown Macadam, to create a 6-foot-tall castle and a giant jack-o-lantern pumpkin patch for Halloween.
"I got the sand over summer before doing the sculpture in Bemus Point for the Bemus Bay Pops Labor Day Festival," said Pangborn. "My work boss knew about what I was doing, and suggested I do something in Bemus Point to also raise awareness for the Lawson Boat Center. So, I did a sculpture with a music and boat theme. The background was lights coming up like a stage with a guy playing guitar. There was a boat sailing on a ribbon of music, and an antique boat too."
For Pangborn, sand sculpting began in 1997 during a family vacation to Virginia Beach. He found that while he was on the beach he couldn't just sit still; he was instead overwhelmed by the desire to create something. So, he began to pack sand into a mound, then chiseled it down to the likeness of a dolphin emerging from the water. After that day, what began as a recreational hobby transformed into a passion.
"When my two girls were young we'd go on family vacations to the beach," said Pangborn. "I don't really know where it came from, but I tried a dolphin, and for a first try it was OK. I looked at it afterward and said to myself, 'I can do better than that.'"
So, the next day Pangborn made a turtle. The finished product turned out larger and better than the dolphin. He continued sculpting every day of the weeklong vacation, and by the end he had created a 15-foot-long lobster.
"I started doing it with kitchen utensils for the most part - stuff like an orange peeler and a little plastic garden shovel," said Pangborn.
For the following 10 years Pangborn and his family would travel to Siesta Key in Florida for spring break because the sand there was great for sculpting. After getting much positive feedback from spectators on the beach, Pangborn decided it was time to get serious about the artform. So, last September he entered the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach at an amateur level.
"I was by myself competing against groups that had as many as 15 people," said Pangborn. "Even though they had more people and could do a whole more than I could in the same time frame, I ended up taking third place. Then in April I went to Sand Bash in Fort Myers Beach, where I took first place in the amateur competition with a sculpture of Buzz Lightyear that I did in four hours. And, in July I competed in Discover Presque Isle in Erie where I took first place in the solo category. I was also awarded with 'Best on the Beach,' which is a people's choice award by spectators out of more than 30 competitors."
Taking first place gave Pangborn some exposure to the masters, which was his goal. He wanted to interact with the masters so that he could learn from them, with the eventual goal of becoming a master himself. That goal become a little more realistic when the masters invited Pangborn to enter the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship as an advanced amateur.
Advanced amateurs were required to apply for participation by submitting a biography and photos of work. Out of all the entries there were eight advanced amateurs selected including Pangborn. Most of the competitors selected had won amateur competitions prior to the event.
The sculpture that earned a first-place medal for Pangborn was entitled "A Soldier's Pride: Home for the Holidays." It depicted a soldier in a dress uniform looking into a mirror. His reflection in the mirror was that of a bald eagle in uniform. It was meant to represent the American spirit. The core values of the Marines - honor, courage and commitment - were etched into the sculpture.
"I don't have any military background." said Pangborn. "But, the competition was just after Veteran's Day, and I thought it would tie in well with that. I wanted to show my thanks to veterans. As I was working on it I was getting a lot of positive comments from spectators. One lady said that she had taken a picture of it to send it to someone (overseas), and they responded that they were glad that someone over here was thinking of them. Two of the masters were worried about the beak of the eagle, which was a vertical overhang. It was risky because it had a chance of falling off. But, I practiced it first, and managed to do it. They were surprised and ended up asking me how I did it. That made me feel really good.
"It made me proud to take first place. I'd been wanting to do it for a long time and to compete against others. It was good to know that out of most of the amateurs out there doing it, that I'm at the top of that list. I went into the competition not only to compete at the advanced amateur level, but I felt I had to do something that would compete with the masters. I'd like to think that after looking at the work of other masters there, that mine was really close to the quality of what they can do. It probably wasn't the same complexity, and the artistic ability is probably the biggest thing that I have to work on, which is the hardest part. But, becoming a master was my goal then, and still is now."
For more information search for "Todd Pangborn" on Facebook or "pangdad_62" on Flickr.com.