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Ralston gets his mojo through sand painting PDF Print
Friday, March 07, 2014 9:00 PM


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Larry Ralston was born, raised and educated in Delphos and now resides near Philadelphia, Pa., in the rural country filled with Amish farms. He is an artist who began designing and creating sand paintings as a hobby close to 36 years ago.

Ralston took a great interest in Southwestern Native American history and the various tribes’ practices of sand painting. It is a ritual for tribal leaders to create sand paintings by sprinkling dry sands colored with natural pigments onto a board or the ground for ceremonial purposes to heal the sick. The belief is the sand allows the patient to absorb the powers depicted in the grains of sand art.


His first design was copied from a home decorating magazine and when he was finished, it was a large 4 x 2-foot piece of work with various sized panels of black emery sandpaper on backer board and glued colored sand for each subject’s detail,


“I used birds, leaves, branches and petroglyphs taken from the Southwestern Native American culture and used 5-6 coats of sand with 10-12 rotating colors glued to plywood panel with a stained wood frame,” Ralston detailed.

An example of Ralston's art.He did all of his work on the project during the evening at the kitchen table with three young children running about.

After finishing his first project, he modeled his designs after the “Sunbursts” from the “CBS Sunday Morning” show. He gave them to friends and relatives as housewarming and good-luck gifts.

Later in life, work and family kept Ralston from pursuing his art — he owned his own business, which was very demanding of his time, plus he and his wife had a fourth child.

“I returned to Sand Art some 16 years ago and explored the ceremonies Native Americans, Mayans and western monks performed using brilliant orange- and yellow-colored powders ground from rocks, earth and gravel,” Ralston explained excitedly.

He said when a Medicine Man uses a loose sand design on the ground or platform, it draws out sickness or evil from the patient. After the ceremony, the sands were collected and scattered in a stream or back onto the earth.

While in the military and working with the government, Ralston traveled in Turkey and Iran where he viewed many images painted on walls, ceilings, tiles and in some caves located in the rugged hills tourists never get to see. The paintings were drawn by artists and monks thousands of years ago. He explained that many were defaced due to religious beliefs.

For the past 10 years, Ralston has been researching the “Americas”; civilizations of cave and pottery paintings and tribal masks popular with Mayan chiefs.

“I may have two projects going on at the same time due to the gluing and drying process of each color,” Ralston said. “Each part or segment of the subject gets 5-7 layers of sand, glue and background color, giving the subject a two-dimensional raised effect.”

Ralston said all of his art is now done on ply panel with stained surround (frame) for contrast and each piece is sealed to retain color and make it dust-proof.

“I’ve purchased some colored sands to use in my art and mixed some of my own with natural colored pigments from Europe,” Ralston said.

Each of his children have several of his pieces of art and he gave his granddaughters a painting called “Mythical Dancers-Kokopellas”. He said he’s also given paintings to his doctors, an act considered good luck for patients.

Ralston said he belongs to a local art association and has entered some of his work in juried shows. He recalled an artist/jurist asked if he was of American Indian decent because of his artwork’s theme. Before answering her, he thought for a moment and given his Ohio background, responding with a witty remark.

“Yes, a Cleveland Indian,” Ralston chuckled. “She never blinked an eye.”

Ralston said he does not paint during the warm months. Instead, he keeps busy working on outdoor projects designing and/or constructing “live-edge” (natural edge) wood tables, Japanese lanterns, Easter Island statues and hypertufa pots — rock-like garden containers made of “tufa,” a natural volcanic rock — and caring for his bonsai trees.

Last Updated on Sunday, March 09, 2014 1:29 PM

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