Guelph woman, world champion in sand sculpture, goes with the grain

On her 14th birthday, Karen Frölich’s mother bought her a seven-week course taught in a Guelph pottery shop.

Little did she know it would put her on the path to a career in professional sand sculpting spanning over 30 years, including five world championships.

“I thought it was just a hobby,” Frölich told GuelphToday.

After completing the course, Frölich said the owner asked her to stay to study more, which she did, and eventually met a professional sand sculptor who asked her to help with a sculpting project at a mall.

“Once I started playing with the sand, I was hooked,” she said.

Frölich immediately thought about how she could make a career out of it and refined her craft over the next four years alongside a main job.

In 1998 she qualified for her first world championship competition in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia.

“From then on, (my network) just exploded,” said Frölich. “Until then I only knew the guy who was teaching me. When I went to Harrison Hot Springs there must have been 60 very experienced sculptors from all over the world.”

She was invited to take part in other projects and competitions, and by 2001 sand sculpting was her full-time occupation.

It has taken her all over the world to compete at the highest level, judged on the originality of her work, the difficulty and the wow factor.

She uses these elements to judge work on the second season of the CBC show Race against the current.

The contestants are in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick – home of the world’s highest tides – and the 10 teams of two are tasked with completing sculptures in six hours.

Compare that to the three to ten days allowed in master level competitions.

And these are no ordinary sand castles with small buckets either.

“When you’re at the beach, you can work with 20 to 300 pounds of sand,” Frölich said. “The piles we work with are around 10 to 20 tons of sand, and the compaction process will make your sand sculpture between 8 and 10 feet tall.”

Throughout her career, Frölich has created a number of unique pieces, drawing inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, even years ago under a bottle of cider.

“The little things on that particular bottle said, ‘Somewhere in Iowa people are knitting for prizes,'” she said.

“I thought it was just hilarious, so I dueled grannies who were angry knitting in a knitting contest (as a sculpture).”

Her work was also featured at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 2019 when she created a piece honoring the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.

The 53-year-old, who moved back to Guelph with her husband in 2015, is still enjoying it and hopes to continue shoveling and creating new sand art for a long time to come.

Frölich encourages anyone who wants to try sand sculpting to try it at least once.

“It’s not for everyone, but if you love it, you’re going to really love it,” she said. “Just go to the beach, get a big pile of sand and get some things from the kitchen, like knives, forks and spoons, and just give it a try.

“You’ll know pretty quickly whether you like it or not, and most people do. It’s a really fun medium, the sky’s the limit. My best advice would be to just have fun and think outside the box.”

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