By Natalie Strom
John Gowdy, also know as “The Man of Sand,” treated guests at the Marco Island Marriott to a spectacular sand sculpting show over the weekend of July 27. Gowdy, who has sculpted sand on beaches all over the world, created his latest masterpiece inside the lobby, featuring his own take on the Marriott’s Margo the Mermaid statue.
Gowdy has been creating sand sculptures at the Marco Island Marriott since 2005. Guests who enter the lobby from the pool are greeted by his sculptures as they ascend the curved staircases that frame both sides of his work. “They made me the world’s most beautiful sandbox,” exclaims Gowdy, in describing his workspace at the Marriott. “It’s a nice transition from the beach to the hotel,” he adds. “The sculpture greets guests as they come in from the beach.”
For four days over the weekend of July 27, Gowdy and his wife, Laura, greeted guests while inside their “sandbox,” sculpting Margo the Mermaid. Onlookers were in awe as they chiseled away at the damp sand, creating their version of Margo, the mermaid featured in the “Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter” comic strips. Created by Dale Messick, the famous comic strip debuted in 1940, and ran for over 70 years. In 1966, Messick dedicated the Margo the Mermaid statue by famous Cuban-born artist, Tony Lopez, to the old Marco Beach Hotel which is now the Marriott.
The bronze statue by Lopez still resides on the property, featured along the beach line near Quinn’s restaurant. A fixture at the Marriott, many guests take photographs with Margo to remember their trip to Marco.
The iconic figure was an easy choice to emulate for Gowdy, who in the past, has featured over ten sand creations at the Marriott, including King Neptune and an Earth Goddess. His inspiration for Margo came from the original bronze piece by Lopez. “I kind of replicated the sculpture but added my own twist to it,” he explains. The sand creation features a waterfall of sand flowing from the conch shell in Margo’s hand as she sits atop a scalloped shell with the word, “Paradise” carved into the sand beneath her.
Gowdy’s intricate creation is a tribute to his 25 years of sand sculpting. Growing up in Atlantic City, he developed a love for the beach at an early age. Now a retired firefighter, Gowdy first started building sand castles with his three children. “We started competing as a family. We called ourselves the ‘Rowdy Gowdys,’” he adds.
Recently, Gowdy has begun sculpting with his wife, Laura, whom he met in Italy in 2006. The two took home top honors and a $10,000 prize in March on The Travel Channel’s “Sand Wars.” Married on Fort Myers beach last year, Gowdy sculpted dolphins in bow ties along the aisle for their big day. “Much of my work has been at beach weddings, so I decided to do my own,” he explains.
Beach weddings, birthdays, beach festivals and sand sculpture competitions are regular events for the couple. Learn more about their work at www.jgowdy.com and don’t forget to visit Margo the Mermaid at the Marco Island Marriott.