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Renowned sculptor Ray Villafane creates extraordinary elephant sand sculpture, currently on display in Carefree


Tara Alatorre

CAREFREE – If you have never seen an elephant playing chess with a mouse before, then you should probably head over to Carefree Sanderson Lincoln Pavilion, where sculptor Ray Villafane has created a whimsical, stunningly realistic 13-ton sand sculpture. The sculpture can be viewed for free.

Earlier this year, Carefree struck a deal with Villafane, a world-renowned sculptor who is best known for his pumpkin carvings, to create a series of sand sculptures in downtown Carefree throughout the year.  This is his second sand sculpture since being commissioned by the town, and he plans to make at least one more sand sculpture before the end of the year, in addition to expanding the Carefree “Enchanted Pumpkin Garden” with a new scarecrow exhibit.

“It was a blast to do,” said Villafane in a phone interview. “It [Carefree] has really become a playground for me, and it’s just a fun place to create.”

The sculpture captures a scene that features an elephant, Chessie Trunkston, playing chess with a mouse, Hershel Higginbottom, who has just made a checkmate, winning the game, creating a fairytale scene right in the middle of a small desert town. The sculpture took 13 days to make, and started as a 25-ton pile of sand that was placed in wooden forms.

Then Villafane, and his assistant, Sue Beatrice, slowly chipped away, working downwards, removing about half the sand to reveal the characters, which are capturing hearts. Villafane shared a video of the finished sand sculpture, and it has already been shared 3 million times on Facebook in less than a week, and is gaining national media attention.

“Eventually a play between and elephant and a mouse just seemed like a natural fit,” said Villafane in a phone interview. “Because of the scale and the size, it kind of translated well for what we were going to do, so it makes for a more realistic experience.”

Villafane has done such a wonderful job creating characters from sand with a fun, imaginative scene, he says people are already telling him they are sad that Chessie and Hershel will be taken down in August.

“A lot of people are concerned, they don’t want to take it down, they want to make it more permanent, but I think they should just realize this is just the first of many,” he said.  “Worry not, there will be many sand sculptures to come after that.”

To view this sculpture, stop by the Carefree Sanderson Lincoln Pavilion, located at 101 Easy St., in Carefree.