The Man Who Made the Giant Obama Head Out of Sand at the DNC

Landlocked Charlotte, N.C. is getting a feel for the sandy shores this week

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Jacob Templin for TIME

It’s no gilded statue or carved monument, but President Barack Obama has been immortalized in sculpture at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week. Unfortunately, they’re having a little trouble keeping him together, given the stormy weather that’s descended on the North Carolina city. What sort of brand-new sculpture already needs so much upkeep?

Answer: one that’s made out of sand. The president’s likeness has taken the form of a 25-foot-tall mountain of sand, towering near the convention hall, bringing landlocked Charlotte a taste of the sandy shores more than 150 miles east. But with rain clouds in Charlotte over the weekend (and more in the forecast), the team of five sand sculptors pulled many overtime hours Saturday to spruce it up. “That’s kind of the hazard of sand sculpting,” sand sculptor Larry Hudson told the Associated Press. Some even said the marks left by raindrops looked like acne on Obama’s face.

Mark Mason, head of the Sarasota, Fla.-based sand-sculpting company Sandtastic, helped construct the giant Obama head from 15 tons of sand trucked in from South Carolina. It took the crew three days to pack together a block of sand and shape it down into a model of Obama, standing tall in a suit, smiling, his arms crossed, with a red, white and blue pin on his lapel. But look closer, and you’ll see the true message of this massive Obama construction: “Vote Myrtle Beach,” it reads.

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It’s all a plug to get the convention-goers in the mood for one last beachy excursion this summer. The sand, carved and meticulously cared-for, even helps to sell itself, as part of an advertisement for the South Carolinan shorefront getaway. Just a three-and-a-half hour drive from Charlotte, Myrtle Beach is even closer than the state’s famous Outer Banks, as Slate’s Dave Weigel aptly notes.

This is politics, though, and even a sand-sculpture advertisement can’t avoid some partisan, er, sandbagging. Democrats are championing the sculpture as a work of art, and thus a direct riposte aimed at Mitt Romney’s desire to cut funding for the arts. Right-wing groups are mocking it, invoking the “house built on sand” Bible passage to form a thinly-veiled critique of his presidency.

Myrtle Beach’s visitor’s bureau – which reportedly spent $30,000 to create the towering sand mass – says the scultpure is not meant to be a partisan statement. And Mason is quick to dismiss the idea that the sculpture has any political objective beyond striking another blow in the the North Carolina-South Carolina tourism war. In fact, he and his crew are fresh from a carving stint at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. For his part, Mason says he’s proudly registered as independent – although he slyly admitted at the end of the conversation that he’ll be voting for Obama in November.

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