Summer in the ‘Burgh

Here’s what happens to the 140-ton sand sculpture after Pittsburgh’s Regatta

All aboard!

A work in progress.

A work in progress.

Courtesy of Sandsational Sand Sculpting
Rossilynne Culgan

After Pittsburghers are done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the intricate sand sculpture at the Regatta, the sand will go on to less glamorous (but important) work.

The EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta donates the sand to the City of Pittsburgh, a longstanding tradition, per officials. The city stockpiles it for use throughout the year in roadwork or other Department of Public Works projects, mayoral spokesperson Keyva Clark told The Incline.

After weeks of hard work, Jill Harris, owner of Sandsational Sand Sculpting, is glad her medium gets a second life.

“It gets recycled, which is great,” she said. “We like that it gets reused somewhere.”

This year’s detailed sand sculpture portrays the Pennsylvania Railroad and demanded 140 tons (!!!) of sand. It is on view at Point State Park near the Fort Pitt Museum through Sunday, Aug. 5.

Sculpting involves trowels of all size.

Sculpting involves trowels of all size.

Courtesy of Sandsational Sand Sculpting

Leading up to the Regatta, which kicks off today, Harris and her team of three sculptors from Melbourne, Fla., wrangled the sand over the course of 12 days, shaping it with shovels, masonry trowels and even kitchen spoons.

The sculptors work in a public setting, meaning people can stop by and watch the progress.

Curious spectators always ask the same question: What holds it together?

“Water and compaction,” Harris said. “Just sand and water. That’s how it works.”

The key is sourcing the right kind of sand. It must be spiky and sharp, so the grains will hook together, “like Velcro,” she explained.

“That’s why people get so frustrated at the beach because the ocean is a giant rock tumbler, and the sand is round. It’s like stacking marbles,” Harris said. “If you don’t have the right material, you can’t make anything.”

Sandsational purchases the sand from a local shop, Neville Aggregates Company. In each town Sandsational visits across the world, the sculptors work with local vendors to find the best sand for sculpting, though it’s always a little different in each region.

Last year's design commemorated 40 years of the Regatta.

Last year's design commemorated 40 years of the Regatta.

Courtesy of the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta

A self-taught sculptor, Harris has been in business for 23 years, and the Regatta has showcased her work for the past nine years. It’s become a fixture of the Regatta, nearly as much as the boat races. Sandsational’s work at the Regatta has chronicled everything from steelworkers to the Declaration of Independence to Lewis and Clark to the 40th anniversary of Regatta.

This year’s design portrays an art deco travel poster of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A train car cruises through the image with a group of people waiting to board. They’ve even sculpted versions of the art deco posters into the sand.

“It’s all about the feeling of a piece. You want to be able to tell the story and have things that are visually pleasing to look at and have a big impact. Anybody can make a dolphin on the beach. I’m not doing that. It all goes back to wanting to blow people away,” Harris said. “Our whole goal every time we make something is to make people say ‘wow.'”