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Kirk Rademaker

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About the Artist/Site

Rademaker was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in the Valley towns of Modesto and Fresno. For people living in the Valley, a mountain range (or further) from the fabled California beaches, trips “over the hill” were a delight and an inspiration. The young Rademaker would come with his family to the Santa Cruz area, particularly to Seabright Bach, where he would body surf and play wiffle ball. These trips to the beach turned out not only to energize him but ultimately became the inspiration for his future vocation as well.

He earned a degree in painting from San José State University, and then began working as a carpenter and cabinetmaker in construction. By the mid-1990s, living in Oakland, depressed by an unfulfilling job, and going through a difficult divorce, on weekends he began driving to the beaches of Marin County, north of San Francisco. On Stinson Beach, he began building sand castles; “At that point,” he said, “I realized the power of the medium of sand, not only in my own head but how it affected everybody on the beach. I remember the moment well. It had a cinematic quality to it. I’m out there on the beach and the clouds open up and it was like a beam of light shoots down and an angel choir comes out. I wish everyone could have a moment like that.”

In 1997, Rademaker quit his construction jobs and became a professional sand sculptor, using his knowledge of building to create massive and innovative scenes in sand. Among his most memorable are those that appear to be mechanical or futuristic architectural designs, some as large as eight- to ten-feet high. Working with partner Rusty Croft under the business name The Sand Guys, they are on the road 40% of the time, doing commissions for individuals or companies, often as part of corporate team-building efforts; or entering contests, working at festivals, or enhancing birthday or wedding celebrations. Many of their sand sculptures have surpassed world records in terms of scale, complexity, and quality; while they will all ultimately wash away with the weather, The Sand Guys spray a mixture of water and Elmer’s glue on them to enhance their durability.

Yet while Rademaker is not bothered by the ephemerality of his sculptures – some of which take up to 20 tons of trucked-in sand to create – he looked for something more permanent when constructing a home. And, again, while he has significant construction experience and a fundamental understanding of materials, he is choosing to build a much more idiosyncratic and organic structure, referencing both a “miner’s shack” and nautical themes in this cabin in the mountains. Utilizing recycled building materials and found objects, this evolving structure – built around and on top of a standard trailer – fits snugly into his property in the Happy Valley area north of Santa Cruz. “Old Tech” machines – manual typewriters, old science equipment, and more – surround him, serving as inspiration for his drawings and sculptures.

“This whole abode project is really fun for me,” he writes. “I feel like I’m a 13-year-old building a fort out of sticks and dirt clods…. The main inspiration for my home comes from my grandparents’ ranch house up in the gold country above San Andreas. There was no electricity ([only] kerosene lanterns), cooking was on a wood stove with chipped enamelware…no plastic products could be seen anywhere…no TV. My childhood brain absorbed that place…every subtle detail, every smell, every texture.”

“When I started adorning the trailer, I knew exactly the feel and aesthetic that I wanted. I just had to blend that with a little wild hair….I am extremely lucky that almost all of the materials I use are right here on the property….Odd-shaped wood pieces that have been sitting out in the weather getting that lovely patina are stacked up all over the place. A few years ago a friend of [my friend] Chuck drops off a whole pallet of art glass. He was retiring from the business. I asked Chuck what he was going to do with it…he said he didn’t really want to use it and for me to go ahead and use it on my house. Another guy, a contractor, finishes up a job and has probably 50 small radius glue lams that he drops off here because he doesn’t know what to do with then…they are extras. So I am sitting on this gold mine of fabulously unique building material. What a luxury. Every artist should be so lucky.”

“I did want the miner’s shack feel, but I wanted the feel to be more of a dynamic vessel of some short…a ship…a ship moving through…space, air, water, and of course dirt. My front door will soon resemble a bulkhead door of a submarine. The whole process continues to be an experiment. I’ll build something, or mock it up, look at it, stroke my chin sometimes for months, take down, modify…erase…build. Again, what a luxury that is.”

“I was in the building trades for 40 years…did everything from fine cabinetry to pouring foundations. Building a house has a rigid method. So happy to abandon that.”

Rademaker’s “abode” is on private property and is not generally accessible for public viewing.

~Jo Farb Hernández with Kirk Rademaker



Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Santa Cruz, California, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 36.974117 / -122.030796

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