By MADDY VITALE
Kathy Nichols leaves her imprint in the sand with memorable sculptures at beaches in Sea Isle City, Ocean City and Somers Point.
And if you’re lucky enough to see them, you will notice detail and intricacy and perhaps wonder how an artist would prefer to create sand art while knowing that her sculptures will be washed away with the next tide.
Nichols, of Somers Point, has been an art teacher at Margaret Mace Public School in North Wildwood since 2001. She explained her love of the beach and what makes sand sculpting so special to her in an interview Thursday night.
“I love being outside. I would way prefer to be outside and I would rather be moving. I don’t have to go to the gym. I carry 40 pounds of water from the ocean. It’s good for my body and mind,” said the married mother of three grown daughters. “I have a bunch of paintings and stuff at home. With sand art, I don’t have to worry about making room for them.”
Whether sculpting surfer girls at Waverly Beach or Atlantic Avenue Beach in Ocean City or stopping by Dog Beach in Somers Point/Egg Harbor Township to make sand art of a dog with his pet parent, or choosing to have some quiet time to create pieces in Townsends Inlet in Sea Isle, it is a way of life for Nichols that she feels lucky to enjoy and embrace.
“I float around, depending on the wind and the tide and the black flies. I float,” she said of her travels from beach town to beach town.
In the summer, you can catch Nichols during the day at local beaches, specifically Ocean City. During the school year, she gravitates toward places that are closer to where she works so that she doesn’t lose precious daylight.
Lately, she has spent time in a spot she likes to keep secret. It is in Townsends Inlet in Sea Isle.
“I do my quick sculptures there,” she noted. “I go after work and stay until sunset.”
Without divulging the exact location, Nichols said it is a “little spot that is protected from the wind.”
“It is a little warmer. The sun sets on that side, and you get a few more minutes of sunshine,” she said of the area by the Townsends Inlet Bridge. “Now with the clocks set back, I feel like I am being punished, but the bridge lights buy me some time.”
She sculpts from about 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on many weekdays. But if she had it her way she would stay on the beach and sculpt.
At the end of October, she created a woman in the sand in Townsends Inlet.
“It was the end of October. I did the torso and I did a blanket and a face,” she said. “It’s always a time issue for me, so I focused on the face.”
“I really am trying to get faces and facial proportions down,” she said, adding that she had the woman facing off to the side instead of turned front. “I was just teaching that to my students. This was an example.”
During the school year, Nichols and her students head to the beach in North Wildwood, near the school where she teaches at, to create some pieces using the techniques they have learned from Nichols, while adding their unique talents and skills to the mix, she said.
Sometimes the pieces she selects to sculpt choose her, rather than the other way around.
Townsends Inlet is known for a famous fox that is not too fearful of people. In fact, the fox took an interest in one of Nichols’ boots.
“I noticed her coming around a few weeks ago, so I sculpted her,” she said. “A week ago, she grabbed my boot and ran off into the bushes. I hopped on one foot to get my boot, but it was gone. The fox went into the sticker bushes with it. Supposedly, they teach their offspring how to hunt that way.”
And there was the inspiration for fox sand sculptures, she said with a laugh.
Her love for this form of art seems endless.
“I will sculpt for as much time as I have,” she said. “If I have eight hours, I will sculpt for that long, or 24 hours.”
Sometimes her husband, Jimmy, comes along and helps out. He understands her drive and her passion for art, she said.
“There aren’t a whole lot of people who spend every spare second on the beach, sand sculpting,” Nichols said. “Eventually, when I retire from teaching, I want to be a sand sculptor professionally. I would love that. I dream about it.”