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Newport Aquarium adds giant sand sculptures to Shark Summer; one kid free offer extended

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

For those who didn’t get to the beach this summer (or even those who did) Newport Aquarium is bringing the sand to you.

Sand sculptor Damon Farmer of Shadetree Studio in Woodford County works on Turtle Reef, one of three giant sculpts that will be on display at the Newport Aquarium through September 8 (photos by Mark Hansel)

The aquarium announced Monday that its popular #SharkSummer event has been extended with the addition of giant sea-life sand sculptures.

International grandmaster sand sculptor Damon Farmer of Shadetree Studio, in Versailles, Kentucky is producing the custom sculptures.

Farmer, who has nearly 40 years of sand sculpting experience, said the works for the Newport Aquarium were a collaborative effort.

“We went back and forth,” Farmer said. “They had some ideas, I did several sketches, they picked from those and we tweaked them a little bit, and this is the result.”

In honor of #SharkSummer, each of the sand sculptures will include sharks and other hidden elements for families to discover.

“The first one, outside of Stingray Hideaway is celebrating Newport aquarium’s 20th anniversary and it features so many different aquatic animals and there’s even an iguana and a frog,” said Jennifer Tan, public relations manager for Newport Aquarium. “It’s kind of a seek-and-find on each of the sculptures. You can go through and try to find the hidden sea stars and how many are on there, or you can try to find the hidden horseshoe crab.”

Newport Aquarium Executive Director Eric Rose said the detail in the sculptures is amazing.

“Everything from sharks to sea turtles and penguins will be seen but the closer you look, the more you’ll see down to the smallest of fish and corals,” said Rose “They really are a celebration of all the animals, perfect as we celebrate our 20th Anniversary this year.”

Jennifer Greening and her son Joel, 6, have been members of the Newport Aquarium for three years. They were among the first to see the new sand sculptures. This one, outside of Stingray Hideaway, celebrates Newport Aquarium’s 20th anniversary (click to enlarge)

The sculptures will feature dozens of animals from the aquarium and will reach up to 8 feet tall. They are produced from more than 14 tons of sand.

Guests visiting through Thursday will get to see Farmer in action, actually producing the huge sculptures. Starting Friday, July 26, they will be fully completed and on display through the end of #SharkSummer on September 8.

Monday, Farmer was working on a four-and-a half-ton sand sculpture called Turtle Reef.

“Every piece will have sharks in it and this one will also have sea turtles and stingrays,” Farmer said.

Jennifer Greening of Blue Ash was watching the creative process with her six-year-old son, Joel.

“I’m amazed, what you can do with sand,” Greening said. “I just try to make sandcastles and that’s hard enough.”

The Greenings have had a Newport Aquarium family membership for about three years and are frequent visitors.

“They’ve definitely changed it up, from when we started,” Greening said. They keep adding new exhibits, from the Stingray Hideaway, to Freshwater Falls and Splash and Bubbles.”

Sand sculptor Damon Farmer, of Woodford County, KY, works on a sea-life sculpture at Newport Aquarium. The sculptures, which feature animals from the aquarium will be as high as 8 feet tall when completed. They are the newest addition to the Newport Aquarium Shark Summer displays.

The Splash and Bubbles exhibit features the characters made famous by the Nickelodeon television show of the same name.

Work in progress. This “Treasure of the Octopus” sand sculpture features vintage scuba gear

One element of that exhibit allows guests to color a picture that is scanned and incorporated into a fish tank feature.

“Last time I came I made one that said daddy,” Joel Greening said “Mine was orange and blue (the colors of FC Cincinnati, one of his favorite teams).”

The newest exhibit requires a lot of meticulous work, even for someone with Farmer’s experience.

“I’m removing everything to reveal what’s underneath the sand,” Farmer said. “It’s fairly easy to carve because it’s packed down here, it holds together, but if I make a mistake and something falls, it’s not as easy to pack it back on.”

The secret to becoming  a world-renown sand sculptor, Farmer says, is lots of practice.

“It was a hobby for many years and eventually people started paying me” Farmer said. “I have an art background, which is mainly painting, but when I went to the beach, I discovered the sand. It seemed like a natural medium, I enjoyed it very much and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Farmers work has taken him all over the world, but it was a previous job at Newport Aquarium that landed him this return engagement.

“I was here 10 years ago, they remembered that and got in touch with me,” Farmer said. “I’ve had some really great sand experiences traveling the world. I’ve done 30-foot-tall sculptures in China and Japan, I go to Europe a couple times a year, so it’s been great opportunity to travel and I enjoy that aspect of it a lot.”

Tan said many people have a long history with Newport Aquarium, which has really come to light during this 20th anniversary year.

“It’s definitely a milestone,” Tan said. “There are people who remember coming here when we first opened and it’s exciting to see the perspective of someone who started out as an intern here or the person who sold our very first ticket 20 years ago, and she still works here. So to see that perspective and to follow along with that, it really feels good.”

It was also announced Monday that #Shark Summer has been extended through September 8. Visitors can still get one child in free with each adult admission purchased online during certain hours through that date. For more information, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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