Chances are you've built a sand castle before, and maybe even transformed your brother into a sand mermaid, but you've probably never attempted anything approaching the mastery that will be on display at this weekend's third annual Blue Water SandFest.

Held at the foot of the historic Fort Gratiot Lighthouse along the scenic beaches of Lake Huron, SandFest is the only event of its kind in Michigan. The festival, which began Friday and continues to Sunday, hosts master and amateur sand sculpting contests featuring the world's top sculptors, as well as hands-on sculpting demonstrations, live music, food vendors and much more.

So how does one go from crafting crude castles on vacation to molding multi-ton masterpieces out of sand? Sculptor Bill Knight, who co-produces the event with wife Marianne, says every sand artist has a unique story about how they were first drawn to the art form.

"There's no school you can go to to learn sand sculpting," he says. "My wife and I both got into sculpting around 2001 or 2002, really just from being on the beach and creating cool stuff out of sand. No formal education. We started entering amateur contests, and then we started meeting master sand sculptors, and a couple of them mentored us."

From there the couple started rising the ranks at sculpting competitions around the country and eventually founding their firm The Sand Lovers, which hosts events like SandFest around the country and creates commissioned sculptures for corporate clients.

Master sculptor Melineige Beauregard, whose surreal pieces took top prize at the two previous SandFests, says her background in working with ephemeral materials started with her father.

"He brought me into the world of sand, snow and ice sculpture," she says. "I started with snow sculpture because I come from Quebec and it's cold here. I just have a passion for it, and I continue, and sometimes we still carve together."

"Ephemeral" is a key word in the world of sand sculpting. The craft poses a unique challenge for artists: their painstakingly crafted work must eventually succumb to the elements. Knight says every artist handles this part of the process differently.

"It took me many years to get used to it, but I usually tell people that if I get attached to anything other than a good photograph I'm going to have a pretty miserable life," he laughs. "But Marianne, if we build one for a client or a competition and it has to be taken down that evening or the next day, she doesn't want to be there and see that happen."

Beauregard says she tends to be her own biggest critic, so she finds sand sculpting much more encouraging than working with more durable materials.

Blue Water SandFest

Continues Saturday, Sunday

Fort Gratiot Light Station County Park

2802 Omar, Port Huron

Tickets $5, kids 4 and younger free

4th of July concert tickets $20

(810) 982-0891 ext. 118

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