Rusty Croft is a sand sculptor, but he started out working in snow and ice. A self-trained artist with innate talent, he grew up in rural Iowa. As a child, Croft watched his father work himself to the bone as a carpenter and carpet layer and swore that he would be different. He would live a life he truly loved.
Years later, in the early 1990s, Croft met a snow and ice sculptor in Taos, New Mexico, and got a taste of what that life would be. He saw in the man’s work something that rekindled the artistic imagination of his youth and offered himself as an apprentice. He stayed long enough to get a concentrated on-the-job training that would never leave him.
By 1997, Croft was living in California. He’d made a few contacts in the world of sand sculpting and was invited to join in the building of the world’s largest sand sculpture in San Diego. Approximately 70 sand sculptors worked for three weeks to make a 70-foot-high city that was several acres around and made of hundreds of thousands of tons of sand. It was not easy work. Days and days were spent just shoveling and packing sand, but, for Croft, it was bliss. “Sand captured the childhood aspect [of art]. At the beach, you just smile,” he said.
Now co-owner of a company called Sand Guys, Croft has traveled the world sculpting sand, and he even was featured on a reality show called “Sand Masters,” which aired on the Travel Channel.
Sand Guys primarily makes commissioned promotional sculptures for big companies. The work is dictated by the client. By contrast, the competitions they enter are opportunities to “go out and make artwork,” according to Croft.
In September, Croft and his team went to San Diego for the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge competition. Their work, a sculpture titled “Restless Mind,” is a piece of which Croft is particularly proud. It seems impossible that the narrow planes of sand depicting the repeating profiles of a great head are composed of the formless stuff you dig up at the beach. A few days after the competition concluded, the city had the sculptures knocked down.
For Croft the motivation is simple. Bringing fine art to people who may not otherwise encounter it gives him a satisfaction that makes his aching back and arms seem like minor inconveniences. He said, “To me that’s the really fun part. Everyone has an experience of sand, so it’s relatable. You don’t have that relationship to other mediums that you do to sand. To me, that’s just pure joy.” But as the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you. It doesn’t matter. Croft has made art of the lasting kind, too, but it didn’t make him happy.
“I spent 14 weeks building a furniture piece, and it was beautiful, but … it was in my studio, then it was in their bedroom, and it’s kind of lost to the world. Sand, in those four days it’s on exhibition, hundreds of thousands of people can come through. … It’s just like life. Things don’t last. Whether it’s love, a house, money, your car, a great feeling, a good glass of wine, or a nice note of music, enjoy
it while it’s there, and then