Making over GM

New Hummers sit on a dealer lot in Benton, Ark., in June 2008. The government on Thursday outlined its road map for General Motors, a plan that would erase most of its debt, give the United States an overwhelming majority stake and eventually bring the co

Lily Betjeman/Ppecial to The Post and Courier

“Bic-colo Spoleto Razor” won first-place for “Most Creative” on Saturday at the Spoleto Sand Sculpting Competition. Greg Smith of Columbia gets to work on his sculpture.

A shark ate my principal. The sea turtle's name is Marvin Spoleto. Gulliver went swimming. These are just a few themes that blanketed the Isle of Palms' Front Beach at this year's Sand Sculpting Competition, one of Piccolo Spoleto's most popular events. With 37 teams, the competition could not trump last year's record of 65 but did not disappoint in the creativity of its contestants.

"Amateur families usually start with the traditional castle," Anne-Marie Fields said as she watched her husband, Chris, and 14-year-old daughter, Madison, scraping away sand from their "Tubers" motorboat sculpture that took first place in the family division this year.

Anne-Marie said her family sticks to beach themes because the sculptures remind them of all the fun memories they have together on the water. This year marks their third as participants in the sculpting competition, and each year they learn new tricks for building in the sand.

"You can't use just your plastic beach shovel anymore," Chris Fields said. "Now you have to go to the hardware store."

On many sites, teams built wooden frames to shape the sand into hard blocks before carving away with their shovels. People used trowels, scalpels, kitchen utensils and even some custom-made tools for the more detailed sculptures.

It is true that there weren't many castles Saturday, and it seemed as though the ideas were cliché. Unless, of course, you were Marc and Josh Embler, a father and son team that put the classic turret-and-drawstring-bridge model to shame.

Josh Embler credits his grandfather for teaching him a technique of hand stacking to create "drip towers" that look similar to a giant termite mound.

"There's no shovel or bucket. It's all done with your hands," Josh said.

The architecture of the drip towers soon became complex, with arches and buttresses, while the towers themselves reached almost the same height as the people building them. Their sculpture, titled "On Stranger Tides," won first place in the Best Architectural division.

In the adjacent work area, Greg Smith and his team were working on a surprise creation that won them first place in the Most Creative division. Smith refused to reveal the name of the sculpture to watchers, waiting until the last moment to unveil his masterpiece.

"That's the beauty of art," Smith said. "You don't ask a painter what he's painting until he's done, do you?"

Smith's sculpture was a giant razor that shaved stubbles of hair made from tubes of sand. The team called it the "Bic-colo Spoleto Razor."

From the moment the competition began at 9 a.m., sculptors blazed trails from the ocean to their work sites with buckets of water to saturate the sand. Dry pockets are dangerous to the sculptures, making them weak and easy to crumble. But while most families went to the ocean for water, the Becker family made the ocean come to them.

The Beckers, who won Best of Show last year, worked on an exhibition sculpture that was not judged. Better-known as the "Sand Squad," the Beckers erected a solar panel that provided enough energy to pump water from the ocean to their sculpture through a giant hose.

The competition was judged in several categories, including Children, Adult, Family, Best Architectural, Most Creative and Best of Show. The judges rated the sculptures on a one-to-10 scale based on overall impressions. This year's Best of Show was "Mona Lisa," DaVinci's famous portrait made from sand and food coloring by Sharon Craig and Janet and Greg Jackson of Charleston.

Leah Rankin is a Goldring Arts Journalism writer. Reach her at