Sand sculptures rising in Atlantic City [video]

 Atlantic City firefighter and professional sand sculptor Matthew Deibert. (Kim Paynter/for NewsWorks)

Atlantic City firefighter and professional sand sculptor Matthew Deibert. (Kim Paynter/for NewsWorks)

The 2013 World Championship of Sand Sculpting is taking place in Atlantic City, N.J., from June 13-30, off the boardwalk near Caesar’s Casino. The event attracts artists from the United States, Canada and as far away as India.


Despite the vast array of talent on display, one competitor stood out as the crowd favorite from the rest, Atlantic City native and artist, Matthew Deibert.  Deibert has not only been working as a professional sand sculptor for the past 14 years, but is an A.C. firefighter. On Saturday, a crowd gathered as Deibert pressed wet sand into his sculpture. “I’m here in my home town, can’t get much better than this,” he said.

His sculpture titled, “Literacy Lives On,” honored his sister Ann, an Atlantic City teacher who promoted reading both inside and outside of her school.  Deibert said she passed away a few weeks ago. Deibert said that Ann was “integral” to the reading program in the city.

His finished piece was a three panel structure, the first a parent reading to a child, the second a teacher reading a book in bed, and third a teacher reading with a student, the entire piece was topped with the names of popular novels such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lorax” on a banner of sand.

Deibert used an array of tools to form his sculpture, palate knives, spreaders, paintbrushes, feather dusters and levels. Deibert said he had no home-sand advantage because the 15 tons of sand used in the competition was trucked in from a different part of the state, but he created a color variation by mixing in some sand from A.C.  “We’re all experimenting,” he said.

As Deibert carefully created his sculpture, his son, Ian, brought him orange Gatorades and offered advice. The father-son duo won 1st place in the Travel Channel’s program “Sand Masters” in 2011, and the young Deibert, 20, hopes to be an animator in the film industry and continue professional-level sand sculpting on the side. He said the most challenging part of sand sculpting is being able to “transcribe an idea you have into sand. There’s so many limitations, it’s so much easier to write out on paper than it is to put in the sand.”

He added that he’s learned a lot about life from his dad through sand sculpting. “It’s just sand, it washes away.  It’s gonna fall, you just gotta build it up again, that’s what he’s always told me since he started and he applied to life in some situations, it’s just sand.”

Matthew Deibert’s “Literacy Lives On” didn’t place in the competition, but he said he still values being able to put a message in the sand. “That’s what it’s all about, getting out there, playing in the sand, and having a lot of fun.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal