Lithuanian sand sculptor recalls first steps on Siesta Beach, and is back for more
By Hannah Wallace
“Siesta Beach is unique,” said Lithuanian sand sculptor Andrius Petkus. “I never seen the sand [like] what you have here. I remember my first steps on the beach — my skin immediately was covered by goose skin.”
Petkus’ sentiment echoes what many international artists have felt when first they arrived here for the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, an event founded in 2010. And while the pandemic hampered international bookings in recent years, the 2023 Crystal Classic, Nov. 10 to 13, will feature masters sand sculptors from the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Ukraine, Japan, and Latvia.
Petkus’ enthusiasm for Siesta, as well as his passion for sand sculpting in general, reflects the kind of energy that all of these artists bring back to the beach this year — further enhanced by their unique cultures and backgrounds. Spectators, in turn, will be rewarded as always with towering, jaw-dropping artworks carved from Siesta’s own spectacular quartz sand, in the midst of an artsy, international beach-party environment.
“For people it is still impossible to believe what artists can make out of sand,” Petkus said. “One moment it is just a pile of sand, and suddenly in a few days it transforms into a piece of art.”
Petkus answered questions recently from his home near Vilnius, where he’s hard at work building a house — not of sand this time, but a real one, made from wood and other traditional construction materials. In fact, Petkus works in many media in addition to sand, including metal, ice, and especially wood. His lifetime love of sculpture stems, in part, from a childhood spent woodworking with his father, a builder and carpenter. “His life is wood,” Petkus said.
Now 47, Petkus has competed in sand-sculpting competitions and participated in festivals all around the world, including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Kuwait, and throughout Europe. At home in Lithuania, he’s considered a pioneer of sand sculpting as an art form. But this year’s Crystal Classic will be especially meaningful to him: Petkus will be competing alongside his father Vaclovas as a doubles team, their first sand sculpting competition together in nearly 15 years.
“It is funny — he was teaching me how to hammer nails or how to carve a wooden sword in [my] childhood,” said Petkus. “Now I am teaching him how to carve the sand. Life is an interesting thing. We live, we learn, we teach.”
Over three previous appearances at the Crystal Classic competition, Petkus has notched impressive first- and second-place finishes. But for his third appearance, his sculpture collapsed the day before the judging.
The heartbreak of a collapse illustrates just how hard it is to work with sand. It’s both delicate and cumbersome, and artists are often trying to carve features that defy comprehension — as well as gravity.
One of the keys to a great sand sculpture is “To destroy the heaviness feeling,” said Petkus. “Sand is heavy material. Sculptures look heavy and monumental. So [the] artist must show sand sculpture is light, not heavy.”
Petkus recommended “tiny details” to improve a sand sculpture’s overall impact — though he admitted this delicate carving is easier said than done. “For some artists, is difficult even to carve straight line,” he said.
Petkus wouldn’t reveal what he and his father plan to sculpt this year, only wryly saying that “We will carve something interesting to win.” (In fact, they bring some extra pressure from Lithuania, he added with a smile: “My mom said to my father, ‘Don’t come back home without a prize.’”)
The world of sand sculptors is a microcosm of the art world in general, according to Petkus. Ultimately, this year’s Crystal Classic is an opportunity for himself and his father to improve their skills and find inspiration from their colleagues from all around the world. And the father-son team from Lithuania may make something to turn people’s heads while they’re at it.
“Always festivals bring opportunity to learn something from other artists,” he said. “Always it is a good chance to become better and better.”
Find tickets, parking passes, transportation info, and artist bios at siestakeycrystalclassic.com.