Sand artisans embrace 25 years Piccolo anniversary prevalent theme

Rachel Mahaffey (sitting) and her niece, Jabrae Lanning, worked meticulously Saturday, carving and gently blowing away sand, on what later won best-in-show overall for a castle sitting on a base carved with a 25 and titled “25 Years of Magic.”

Family members of the “Sand Squad” were brainstorming castle themes right before the 25th annual Piccolo Spoleto Sand Sculpture Competition when 10-year-old Megan Mowrer thought of Disney and the “Magic Kingdom.”

She told her mom, “What about 25 years of magic” and voila, they had a theme.

The Sand Squad, which has competed in 12 consecutive Piccolo sand sculpture contests with alternating team members, got to work on an elaborate, meticulously detailed castle sitting atop a base carved into a “25” on both sides.

Under a tent that kept the sand from drying out, Joe Mahaffey, Jeff and Rachel Mahaffey, and niece Jabrae Lanning worked for three hours. The experience and dedication paid off. The team won best-in-show.

Contest Director Chris Tindal, who stokes interest in the contest throughout the year with emails to past participants, felt honored that the event’s 25th anniversary was a theme threading through this year’s sculptures.

Two other clever ones were “25 Ears of Spoleto,” featuring 25 ears, and a sculpture titled “Serp ‘n USA,” featuring a reptile biting a surfboard with a 25 on it; it won best-in-show in the family division.

“It makes me really happy and proud that a lot of people were recognizing the 25 years of Piccolo Spoleto sand sculpting, and it’s just really incredible that they gave us a nod to that,” said Tindal, adding that the 25 was not a requirement in the sculptures.

In all, 49 teams of up to four people on each team competed in this year’s event, including 21 family teams, 16 adult teams, 11 children’s teams and one young adult team. Tindal said that adult teams usually outnumber family teams.

The Piccolo Spoleto outdoor tradition is a collaboration with the Isle of Palms Recreation Department, which went the extra mile in getting a bounty of prizes this year, including 25th commemorative cornhole sets for the best-in-show overall and best-in-show for adults.

Another theme not only in this year’s contest but in many of the last are multiple generations of families who return every year, including some who compete in different divisions.

Natalie Sinclair, 14, of Mount Pleasant, a regular whose father was competing in another division, won the children’s division with a sculpture of a cellphone titled “iSand.” She invited a friend, Shayd Williams, 14, of North Charleston, to join her. It was Williams’ first contest and she was happy to win several prizes.

Tindal said another highlight of the contest are sculptures featuring puns, among them “Fiddler Crab on the Roof” and “Downton Crabby.” Long-time competitor Jack Tracey had a sculpture of pairs, such as dice and scissors, and pears, and called it “Pearadice.”