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Why a man with a plan keeps an eye on the sky at Arts Fest

Arts Fest food gets thumbs up by borough food inspectors

State College borough health inspector Brian O'Donnell talks to the CDT about ensuring food at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts is safe for visitors. Vendors are inspected for food safety, sanitation practices and employee hygiene.
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State College borough health inspector Brian O'Donnell talks to the CDT about ensuring food at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts is safe for visitors. Vendors are inspected for food safety, sanitation practices and employee hygiene.

There’s not much that distracts Greg Glenn. He’s just not the type of guy who’s prone to self-consciousness in the same way that a lot of people might be if they were carving a 25-ton sand sculpture in the middle of Sidney Friedman Park.

It’s not that the crowds don’t come — it’s Arts Fest, of course they do — but Glenn seems to have developed pro-golfer-level immunity to peeping eyes. Maybe it’s the ear buds. Glenn usually puts his music library on shuffle and lets go. He’s not of the opinion that too much thinking makes for a good sand sculpture. It’s better to leave the gray matter at the door and allow muscle memory to take over.

Still, one has to allow for the occasional surprise.

“It’s that Elvis to Black Sabbath transition that can kind of make you go, ‘Whoa,’” Glenn said.

Glenn has sculpted at Arts Fest many times. This weekend’s forecast has promised him the best run of weather he’s ever experienced here in State College. Sand sculptures are held together by two things: compaction and friction between the grains. Rain does neither of them any favors, while the requisite tarp can inflict unsightly smudges.

The fragility and impermanence of the medium is sort of the price of admission. A day making art at the beach sounds like a day making art at the beach until someone turns their back and 40 kids start climbing all over your painstakingly executed sculpture. If it’s not the children it’s the wind, a sudden downpour, possibly even a large bird.

For an artist, the whole thing would be like working on a painting for hours and then promptly dumping it in a trash can.

“(People) have a hard time walking away,” Glenn said.

It’s easier when your only aspiration is to meet single women. That’s what a friend used to lure Glenn into a charity sand sculpting competition back in the ‘80s. The process appealed to the civil engineer in him and he’s since gone on to win a dozen World Sand Sculpture Championships.

After Arts Fest, he’ll move on to a state fair in Portland, followed by another one in Iowa. The sculpture Glenn will leave behind in Sidney Friedman park depicts the “garden trio” — a gnome, a bird and a frog living together in blissful harmony.

Glenn may not take any notice of the people watching but he sees them there, taking photos and nodding their appreciation. He understands the appeal of watching something beautiful come together. The fact that it will inevitably fall apart is almost inconsequential.

At one point a toddler slips under the barrier and runs at the sculpture full-speed, arms outstretched. Collision is averted by a fleet-footed parent and Glenn laughs.

“It’s like magnetic,” Glenn said.

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