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Abe Waterman’s sculptures at Rossignol Winery in Little Sands

by Melanie Jackson

Abe Waterman and his sand lady (photo: Melanie Jackson)Abe Waterman isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Or his feet. Or his knees.

Some visitors to the Rossignol winery in Little Sands learn this about Abe first hand. That’s where his sculpture of a woman made entirely of sand welcomes wine connoisseurs and art appreciators alike. And it’s where Abe can be found, on occasions like today, reshaping and retouching his Island clay creation.

“Congratulations,” says a lady walking by on her way into the winery, “another beautiful one.”

Abe, as cool and quiet as the medium he works with, flashes a bright smile at and offers a gentle, “Well, thank you” in response. “It’s a performance art as much as it is a contemporary art,” Abe tells me, after I ask him if he gets bothered by people interrupting his work. “People stop and watch because they can actually see it taking shape.”

For the last five years, Abe has been creating—and recreating—the long-haired beauty for winery owner, John Rossignol, who has a collection of Abe’s work all around his property, such as the two large wooden sculptures of a man and woman inside the winery’s retail store and the five scenic sandstone carvings along the laneway—each of them as tall as Abe himself.

Every summer, Abe has to recreate his earthen enchantress, after PEI’s winter and harsh winds from the neighbouring Northumberland Strait wreak their havoc on her.

But Abe says the mortality of his sculptures is part of their appeal. “I kind of like the idea of it returning to its original state,” he says, his blue eyes shining under the summer day’s sun. “It’s not permanently taking up space, and I don’t have to live with my mistakes.”

Each year he uses the original pile of sand that was delivered to the vineyard the first year he sculpted his sandy siren and each year he gives her a new look.

“She’s different every year,” he says.

Abe says he learned his craft by doing some snow sculpting around the yard at home. Those frosty forgings led to fellow Island sculptor Ahmon Katz asking Abe to partner with him at Winterlude, an annual event in Ottawa that showcases snow and ice sculptures.

From there, he was asked to sculpt creations for Charlottetown’s Jack Frost Festival and, after that, for Sandland—a collection of scenic sand sculptures formerly on display near the city’s waterfront.

Less than a decade later, Abe has sculpted sand in lands as far as British Columbia, Texas and Portugal. “It’s a great job. Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” he says.

While he never particularly aspired to be an artist, it would seem that’s where Abe’s path of opportunities led him. And he hopes his journey will continue, taking him even further into mastering his craft. “If I can keep making my living doing this, I will,” Abe says. “But even if I wasn’t doing this professionally, I’d still be in my yard doing it for fun.”

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