'Sandi,' West Palm Beach, Florida's famed 35 foot holiday tree made out of sand, is making it's downtown debut this week. The specially-crafted, impressive structure has become a West Palm Beach holiday landmark since its first installment in 2012.
We caught up with Mark Mason, the founder of Team Sandtastic, as him and his guys wrapped up this year's animal themed version of the sand tree.
"We are out here for our 6th year building the tree in West Palm Beach. The first year we did a small tree and they said 'how big can you make that?' Now we are at 35 feet."
Mason and his team of sand sculptors have been doing this for 28 years. They travel the globe making intricate sand and snow sculptures, both indoors and outdoors.
More than 600 tons of sand were used during the making of Sandi this year. Locals and visitors have been stopping by to catch the guys carving away during the two week installment process.
"It's a labor of love. We come out here and carve and make up these pieces as we go."
As we made our way down Clematis street to check out this year's pet-themed installment, we caught one of Mark's artists working on the final touches - a dog that sits at the base of the sand tree. It was impressive to see him improvising with a trowel in one hand and his cell phone in another.
Mark told us that all of the tools they use can be found in a garage or kitchen. "You start with a shovel - a great carving tool - moves a lot of sand. We work down to mason trowels, margin trowels, cake icing spreaders - great for details and then a brush that's a great eraser tool for mistakes."
Of course the big question when seeing the process is how Sandi holds up to the elements....more specifically Florida's frequent rain.
"The tree is out here with no tent so we are open to the rain. It's just like a dry sponge cause the water's perking down through it. It will soak that rain in until it hits a saturation point and only then does it start to speckle and pit it. It would take a lot of rain to actually bring it down."
The rain combined with harsh winds can potentially be an issue for Sandi, so the crew sprays her with a thin layer of a diluted glue solution to help channel the water off her a little faster and ensure she stays in immaculate shape. This is the final step which is followed by the big unveiling during the official Sandi the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
The Holiday Tree Lighting takes place during the City’s weekly Clematis by Night event on November 30th at 7 p.m. on the waterfront. Additional activities, starting at 6 pm and running through 9:30 pm, include live music by a variety of bands, including Valerie Tyson Band, an electrifying R&B and Top 40 band at 6 p.m.; Chemradery, a dynamic pop-rock and soul band at 8 p.m.; and an a cappella performances by Generation Gap, known as four guys and one doll who harmonize, throughout the evening.
In addition, families can experience non-stop family fun in SnowieVille, including seasonal kickoff activities such as face painting, a visit from Elsa, star of the movie “Frozen,” and the Grinch. Santa and Mrs. Claus will also make a special appearance.
On display from November 30 – December 31, Sandi’s seasonal supporting cast of activities includes additional sand sculptures in Sandi Land and a backstage peek into Sandi’s “dressing room,” “Glow FORE It” mini golf, “Reindeer Games” Trivia Night, and kids and adults of all ages can enjoy additional holiday cheer by creating their own Florida-style snowman in SnowieVille. Plus, more than a dozen of West Palm Beach’s favorite – and free – weekly and monthly City events will celebrate Sandi, the star of Holiday in Paradise.
Since making her grand entrance in 2012, Sandi has received numerous international and regional awards and accolades, including being named “Best New Event” and “Best Event within an Existing Festival” by the International Festivals and Events Association; and “Most Innovative Project” by the Florida Festivals and Events Association.