From dinosaurs to doomed monkeys, Greg and Brandi Glenn have seen — and carved — it all.
The husband-and-wife team who make up sand sculpting company Sandscapes were back on familiar turf last week, carving Tyrannosaurus rexes and stegosauruses from a 75-ton block of sand inside an exhibition building at the S.C. State Fair, which ended Sunday.
Greg Glenn has been creating sand art at the state fairgrounds for 24 years. This year, the fair asked for a sculpture to complement the animatronic dinosaurs patrolling the main entrance.
“Dinosaurs are always good, because everybody loves dinosaurs,” said Brandi Glenn, a fixture at the fair for the last 10 years, amid rumblings from prehistoric props a few feet away.
She paused to pick up a nail, which she’s used to make what Greg estimated to be millions of scales on this most recent batch of reptiles. She drew a small circle, blew off excess sand with a straw stashed behind her ear, then went in search of an old makeup brush to smooth the etching.
“It’s a little bit like Groundhog Day for us right now, because every day is the same,” she said.
Greg blocks out the big-picture design and Brandi makes sure the details are perfect.
“You wake up in the morning (and think) ‘Where am I? It’s an M state. Montana?’ ” Greg said.
The couple spends roughly half the year on the road, traveling and working for three weeks before taking two off.
“We’ve cut back a bit now,” Greg said. “We paid off our house and we’re feeling a little more comfortable. Now we’re only taking jobs that we want that aren’t super-difficult, like trying to move sand into Bloomingdale’s in the middle of Manhattan.”
Greg Glenn stumbled into the sand sculpting business 30 years ago, when a friend recruited him — and his pickup truck — to a competition in his hometown of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“The first time I got my hands in the sand, I was hooked,” said Greg, an engineer by trade. “From there I went into competitions and eventually quit my job, which I thought was my career, and went into this full time.”
Greg and his then-business partners struggled to get the fledgling business off the ground.
“The first year was a little rough. We were eating a lot of beans and rice,” Greg said. “None of us were really good at marketing. But the secret of the cosmos was that if you show the GMs or whoever photographs of (the work), then they understand. Luckily for us, the photographs almost sell the job.”
Brandi was introduced to the artform and to Greg at a Santa Monica, Calif., mall in 1987. She became his official partner in business and matrimony in 1994.
“We pretty much are always on the road together now,” Brandi said. “Everybody asks us about that, like how … ? We really like each other. We just do. We get each other. It’s not always perfect when you’re really tired, (but) if we’ve having a bad day, we’ll stop and we’ll give each other a big hug. We know we’re not going through it by ourselves.
“People say, ‘Are you in charge? Is he in charge?’ There’s nobody really in charge.”
The sculptors began work at the S.C. State Fair on Oct. 8 and remained there until Oct. 18, chiseling and chatting with curious onlookers.
Each creation begins with a stack of two-foot forms filled with sand.
“The sand goes in there in eight-inch layers, and we use construction compactors every eight inches, with water,” Greg said. “When that form is full, another form goes on top of it, all the way to the top, compacted every six to eight inches. And then you climb up there and break off the top form and you reveal a compacted block. Everything gets sculpted out of that compacted block and then you just work your way down, using the forms below you as scaffolding.”
A water hose is nearby for frequent re-wettings to keep the sand from flaking.
Greg said the sculptures are rarely damaged by spectators. There have, however, been earthquakes and torrential thunderstorms to deal with — and once, a marauding band of bird decapitators.
The Glenns were sculpting birds of prey for a raptor center at a park in Idaho when their hotel phone rang at 6 a.m.
“That’s never a good thing,” Greg said. “Somebody had run up the sculpture and grabbed the heads of all these birds and ripped them off. There was going to be a bunch of news crews out there around two in the afternoon. … We drove straight to the park. We did not eat. We got up there and put that thing back together before the news crews showed up.”
Greg has won world championships and carved sculptures for Super Bowls. But the most unusual thing he’s ever created?
“The cow pie,” he said.
In Japan, the Glenns were tasked with creating a vignette from a fairy tale about a thieving monkey who gets a rather gruesome comeuppance from a murderous gang comprised of a bunch of crabs, a chestnut, a wasp, a pestle and a cow patty.
“We had to figure out how to make a cow pie convincingly,” Greg said. “We ended up getting a bucket full of wet sand. We held it up about four feet and dropped it, and then just carved two little eyes in it.”
After leaving Columbia, the couple headed to a barbeque festival in Lexington, N.C. When they do get home, the Glenns chill with their three cats and individual hobbies. Vacations are preferably taken to places without the hustle and bustle of their day jobs.
“You’re constantly around people,” Brandi said. “We really look for places where there are no people — camping, a tropical island with nobody around.”
Both Glenns grew up in coastal towns, so they do still hit the beach, “but this is the last thing that we do,” Brandi said.
This story first appeared in Oct. 22 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.