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‘Living on Water’ comes to life
VMNH festival held Saturday
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Sand sculpture Alan Matsumoto (right) and his wife, Robin Matsumoto, work on piece Saturday at VMNH. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Yolanda Brown’s favorite part of the “Living on the Water” Festival on Saturday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History was seeing world-champion sand sculptor Alan Matsumoto carving a 7-foot-tall whimsical work.

“This is amazing. Look at the hair. Look at the (details) on in,” said Brown, of Martinsville, as she admired Matsumoto sculpting King Neptune, god of the sea in Roman mythology, playing cards with a mermaid. It will contain the words, “Go Fish.”

Brown, who attended the festival with her 3-year-old son, Tristian Spencer, said another highlight for them was the horseshoe crabs, whose eyes (and other parts of their bodies) are covered by a shell (exoskeleton).

Brown laughed that when she and Tristian were given the opportunity to touch a horseshoe crab, “He touched it first. I was the one who was too scared.”

Tristian also enjoyed playing some of the games. For example, he caught several imitation fish with a magnet, his mother said.

As Matsumoto sculpted, his wife, Robin, explained the process. She said the goldish color of the sand is the result of a small amount of silt in it to help hold it together.

Her husband began by putting the sand mixture in a swimming pool construction form. He then wet and compacted the sand mixture, forming big blocks from which he carved the sculpture, she said. To sculpt, he used trowels, spoons, brushes and special tools he made out of a TV antenna, she said.

Matsumoto began the work Friday and was expecting to finish Saturday, he said. He estimated the sculpture would be about 7 feet high and about 10 feet wide.

The Matsumotos live in Roanoke. He formerly was a structural engineer in Vancouver, British Columbia. He and other various sculpting team members have won six or seven world sand sculpting championships, according to the Matsumotos.

The sand sculpture is expected to last several weeks outside VMNH, according to Zachary Ryder, marketing and public relations manager at the museum.

A short distance from “Go Fish” was an area where children were taking part in a sandcastle building contest; a dunking booth, where earlier in the day Martinsville Police Chief Sean Dunn had been plunged into the drink; an area where the Martinsville Fire Department had water relay races; and a “deadrise workboat” on display.

Ally Lary, the museum’s education coordinator, said the boat is representative of a modern-day workboat that watermen use on the Chesapeake Bay.

A placard says: “In use since 1910, these engine propelled workboats have a sharp V-bottom hull. Most are about 35-40 feet long and 9-12 feet wide. They can float in only a few feet of water, allowing fishermen to operate in very shallow parts of the bay. Deadrises are used for oystering, crabbing, clamming, eeling and netfishing. They also are used as commercial fishing charters.”

Inside the museum were educational displays, activities, games, story times and presentations by the museum and various other agencies.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission had the display of horseshoe crabs. Alicia Nelson, fisheries management specialist, gave festival-goers a chance to see and touch live horseshoe crabs as she discussed them and answered questions.

Horseshoe crabs are living fossils that have existed for hundreds of millions of years, according to Nelson and the website of Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), a regional partnership that leads and directs Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection. Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs and are more closely related to terrestrial spiders than blue crabs, according to CBP. They have a hard, brownish-green exoskeleton and a spike-like tail, and visit the Chesapeake Bay’s sandy beaches each spring and summer to spawn.

At another station, Stacey Brown, recreational boating safety manager for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, was promoting boating safety and the importance of using life jackets. About 80 percent of boaters who drowned were not wearing life jackets, she said.

At a display on Native Americans and the water, 11-year-old Amanda Cease of Henderson, N.C., lay down inside about a 15-foot-long wooden dugout canoe. After she got out, she said she enjoyed the experience and that she was comfortable for the brief time she was inside, crossing her arms over her chest.

Jo Carter, an educator at the museum, said Native Americans made dugout canoes through a process of burning, removing ashes, burning and scraping.

Also on display was a weir, a device made of sticks, reeds and twigs that Native Americans used to trap fish.

Amanda’s mother, Susan Cease, described the festival and exhibit as “really cool.” Amanda’s brother, Charles Cease, 8, said he especially liked seeing crawdads and dragon fly larvae.

Brian Williams, program manager in Martinsville/Henry County for the Dan River Basin Association, gave a talk about the Duke Energy coal ash spill and its aftermath called “Heartbreak on the Dan.” During his talk and in an interview, he expressed concerns that only a small fraction of the coal ash that went into the Dan River has been removed, that flooding might stir up remaining coal ash and sediment, and that environmental damage, including marine and wildlife damage, may occur.

“The river is not back to normal,” Williams said. “The river is not cleaned up. It’s never going to be cleaned up. How do you live with it?”

He said DRBA plans ongoing monitoring of the situation and has a “Dan River Recovery Project.”

A Duke Energy news release July 16 stated the company had completed cleanup work along the Dan River, and that Duke Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies will continue monitoring and will remove additional coal ash and sediment deposits it identifies and deems necessary.

It said that the EPA, in conjunction with other agencies, had concluded that enhanced drinking and river water quality sampling was no longer necessary along the river. Sediment, fish tissue and other biological sampling would continue until further notice, it said.

Ryder, of the museum, said more than 100 people attended the event, which was from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. “For an exhibit opening celebration, we are happy with the turnout today,” he said.

The “Living on the Water” exhibit tells the Chesapeake Bay’s history, with emphasis on how people have used it for drinking water, transportation, recreation, jobs and more.


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