By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O for the Orange County Arts Commission
For Damian Hoffman, it all started with being “bored out of my mind.” He was sitting on Sunset Beach, waiting for his infant son to wake up. He piled some sand, used a kid’s castle mold, and then took a shovel and cut straight down, resulting in a tall tower. Damian says sand sculpture is “the only thing in my life I’ve ever felt compelled to do…I was willing to go through the embarrassment of not knowing what I was doing just to learn.” He practiced for several years, often going to Wrightsville Beach for the day with Rik Hermanson, a talented artist and a “Weaver Street fixture,” who was also into carving.
Hermanson introduced Damian to Ed Moore, the ring leader of the carving group known as Sandy Feat. Damian now participates in about a dozen large scale sculptures a year. “Everyone says I’m such an artist, but I’m not.” He claims that his success comes from being “willing to beat my head against the wall to keep learning it.” Working with someone else works best for him. “It is hard for me to look at a big block of sand…I’m kind of stumped. Once we get started, that triggers my creativity … I tend to get more ideas.”
Damian lives in Carrboro and is the Building and Grounds Director for Residential Services, Inc. He finds sand carving “rounds out the corners” for him. “Once you get out there, everything else drops from your life.”
A typical sculpture starts with 16 tons of sand. It takes a day to pile and pack it into tiered forms and usually two 12 hour days to carve. His endeavors have taken him to Virginia, Colorado, and even to China where he worked on a massive project where the “smallest sand pile was bigger than a house.” Three hundred laborers, 60 Chinese carvers, and 15 international sculptors worked for two weeks on a piece depicting all the continents. Damian worked on Antarctica and South America. “I was in way over my head on that one.” He marvels at all that resulted from picking up a shovel that day on the beach. “If it wasn’t for that one little thing…”