Two couples — Jennifer and Al Cook and Tanya and Brian McGraw — had never before attempted to mold sand into art until they hit Front Beach on the Isle of Palms on Saturday morning to participate in Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s 31st annual Sand Sculpting Contest.

They worked as a team to create a dolphin they comically named “Chicken” due to its uncanny resemblance to the farm fowl.

“We had no practice,” said Jennifer Cook. “We’re from Charleston but we haven’t ever taken part in this kind of stuff, it was totally spur of the moment.”

The event, which drew hundreds of locals and visitors and benefited from clear skies and 88-degree temperatures, produced winners in several categories: adult, family, children’s, architectural, most creative and best-in-show. Thirty-one teams competed.

The Cooks and McGraws got a little help from the team working next to them, a group of architects from the local firm LS3P Associates.

The LS3P team built a sand replica of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, whose roof was destroyed by fire earlier this year.

“This is my 10th year, and collectively we’ve been doing this for 15 years,” said Dan Scheaffer, 40, of the architecture team.

Notre Dame won best-in-show.

“We like to look back at the year, and current events, and see what’s going on in the world,” Scheaffer said. “And this, as architects, is a really significant piece of art, and it certainly meant a lot to the community as a civic piece of architecture, so we wanted to give a tribute to it.”

Not everything made was so intricate, of course. Ollie the Octopus won first place in the children’s category, and the Tiki Gods sculpture won in the best architecture category. Ships, hippos, fish and the Avengers all made ephemeral appearances on the beach.

“The diversity of talent here is impressive, said event coordinator Andrea Harrison, of the Isle of Palms Recreation Department. “You have everything from novices to professionals doing exhibition. You get to see the nicest array of talents. It’s wonderful because anyone and everyone can participate in this.”

Alexa Piwowarski is a Goldring arts journalist at Syracuse University.

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