Tea with James J. Taylor

Tea Sand Sculpture

James J. Taylor’s only tools were his hands – and a stick to finish off the delicate details of his sand sculptures. This postcard dates comes from Atlantic City, in 1906, but Taylor did sand sculptures in his home of Asbury Park and on the west coast as well. Born in 1860, he began sculpting in sand when he was 28; he could gather about $30 in tips for a sculpture and made more by selling postcards such as this one. A California newspaper noted:

“Taylor does not exert himself unless there is a goodly crowd on the strand, for he has followed the work so long that he has grown worldly-wise. Sculpture in the sand requires of the artist that he ‘start at the top’ … for his material slips and falls, and an unnecessary touch may mean the sudden destruction of a portion of his subject. And an accident counts for a good deal, as the sand subject cannot be built up so easily as it is cut out. A figure like that of the woman and child takes about two hours’ work… His work is done within a few feet of the water’s edge. The sand must be a little damp. Rain spoils it. The dampness must be afforded by salt water. The sand on this coast the artist has found to be flat and not so compact as the eastern sand. It contains, he says, a large amount of ash.”

Did he feel a pang of regret when the tide came in and washed away his work?

“Not unless there’s a crowd of people around admiring it. The material is still there and I can do the work again.”


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