Atlantic City Sand Sculptors Recreate Ben Franklin Parkway Sites for Wawa Welcome America

Retired Atlantic City firefighters have taken a one-time hobby to new levels. One, John Gowdy, last month built a sand sculpture for Pope Francis.

Matt Deibert remembers when he first got the idea for sand sculpting.

The now-retired Atlantic City firefighter was sitting in the firehouse having a cup of coffee when his fellow fireman, John Gowdy, walked in with a book showcasing some of Gowdy's own sand creations.

"I said I have to try this," Deibert, who has a degree in art, said at the time.

In the nearly two decades since that day, both have competed in many competitions, both nationally and abroad. Gowdy, who in addition to a home in South Jersey also resides in Italy, last month presented Pope Francis with a "sand castle" recreating the pontiff's hometown church in Argentina.

This month, the two got back together to install a massive sand exhibit at Liberty Place in Center City as part of Wawa Welcome America's eight-day celebration leading up to and on the Fourth of July.

It's the second year in a row Gowdy and Deibert have built a sandy homage to Philadelphia's history. Their exhibit this year honors the Ben Franklin Parkway's 100-year anniversary.

It includes individual sculptures to the Rodin Musuem, the Barnes Foundation, the Art Museum and Rocky statue, Love Park and the parkway itself.

The allure of such high-end sand art was on full display Tuesday, June 19, even though Gowdy and Deibert were still two "long days" away from completing the exhibit in time for its official unveiling Thursday, June 21.

"It doesn't matter if you're a little kid or an adult," Gowdy said. "People are drawn to it."

The sculpture will remain on display through mid-August at its location in the large rotunda at The Shops at Liberty Place.

Incredibly, sand sculptures can last years, if not decades, if they have some percentage of silt to hold the fine particulates together, Gowdy said.

"I have one that's been intact for nine years," he said.

One of the other main ingredients to the longevity of a sand sculpture: avoid touching it.

For more information about Wawa Welcome America events and the July 4 concert, click here. On social media, the official hashtag is #July4thPhilly.

Contact Us