Onset sand sculptors go against the grains

Mar 13, 2023

When Rodney Johnson went to the beach with his family, he would spend the day relaxing while his children built sand castles. 

All of that changed 17 years ago, when he saw a girl on Revere Beach making a sculpture out of sand. 

“I said, ‘She’s five years old. I can do that!’” Recalled Johnson, now 79. 

On Sunday, March 12, Johnson, aka “Mr. Sandman,” was the featured artist at the Buzzard Bay Coalition’s Beach Madness sand sculpture competition. 

“You’re molding something out of nothing,” he said as he crafted the face of a seal from a mound of sand. “It’s a lot of fun. You’re exercising. You’re not just sitting down doing nothing. It keeps you going.”

To make his sculptures, Johnson uses household tools like paintbrushes, a spatula, a turkey baster (his wife had no idea where it went) and dryer balls. 

“I ended up learning how to do it and I kept doing it,” he said, flicking excess sand from his sculpture with a teaspoon. “And now I’m giving it back to people for free. I don’t charge for it. I’ll teach you how!”

This was Johnson’s first time sculpting sand in winter.

“I hate cold,” he said. “I’m a summer man. I don’t care if it’s 110, it doesn’t bother me.”

Depending on Sunday’s weather, the Buzzards Bay Coalition was also planning a snow sculpting contest. 

There was no snow on the ground, but there was plenty of sand. Firm, clumpy and slightly damp from Saturday night’s rain, it was perfect for building. 

“You can even make a snowball,” said 9-year-old Greta Carroll, who demonstrated by making a “sandball” and throwing it toward the water. 

Greta and her mother Molly Jacobs used sand to make the scaly spine and outstretched wings of a dragon. 

“I love dragons,” Greta said. “First I made the outline, and then I filled the outline with sand. After that, I smoothed it out and made details, and voila! I made a dragon.”

“I was the sand scooper,” Jacobs said. “That was my job.”

“This is basically the biggest thing I’ve ever made,” Greta added. 

CC Costello, her sisters Salina and Crystal and her 4-year-old nephew Anderson made a sand castle with a drawbridge, a staircase and a helipad. 

“It was Anderson’s [toy] car that started it,” CC said. “Because, you know, all castles have a car.”

“Let’s make a monster truck ramp!” Anderson said. 

“We’ll have to find more sticks,” CC replied.

Ten-year-old Grayson Eames and his mother Jennifer made a giant seashell. 

“It’s easy and it looks cool,” Grayson said as he and Jennifer smoothed out the shell’s ridges. “It’s not difficult to shape, really.”

Four-year old Elliot Audet and his 2-year-old brother Owen had the idea to make a train out of sand, “running” on a driftwood track. 

“They love being outside,” their mother Lyndsay said. “They love the beach. “We figured we’d get them out and play for the day.”

The makers of the three sculptures that received the most votes received bags of Buzzards Bay Coalition swag. 

The Eames family and the Carroll-Jacobs family tied for third place. 

“I’m satisfied,” Grayson said. “I thought we would’ve gotten higher, though.” 

That being said, he voted for the Costellos’ sculpture.

When asked how it felt to tie for third place, Greta shrugged her shoulders.

“I had fun,” she said. 

The Audets came in second place, prompting Owen to jump up and down and shout in excitement. 

The Costellos came in first, but left before they could receive their award. 

As far as Johnson was concerned, winning was not his goal.

“I can’t turn everybody’s head,” he said, “but I can at least make somebody smile. If I can make one person smile, I’ve done my job.” 

He wants his sculptures to decrease the amount of “turmoil” in the world today.

“With everything that’s going on outside,” he said, “so much trouble, there’s nothing like having fun at the beach.”