Cancer survivor found solace in bringing sand to life

Published 4:58 pm Sunday, June 27, 2010

Janet Moore Schrader started her "Sand Pirate" sand sculpting business after reading up on the art. Photo submitted


Nine years ago, Janet Moore Schrader was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

“I had cancer … and it kind of changed my world,” she said. “And to get over it, I started walking the beach.”

Up and down Lake Michigan, Schrader walked the beaches. She was approaching 40 at the time and along with the cancer, she said, “you know, you ask the big questions.”

“I knew I wanted to play the rest of my life,” she said. “And I knew I was going to start a business.”

Recovering from treatment, Schrader discovered a book by Sandy Feet on sand sculpting.
“I was just fascinated with what she was doing,” Schrader said.

She dove into the book, researching how to apply Feet’s tips to Lake Michigan sand, which varies from ocean front sand.

“It took a couple of years to learn how to adapt it to Lake Michigan sand,” Schrader says. “Ours is quartz and it’s round (and) doesn’t like to stick together.”

But Schrader honed her skill and began sculpting sand into lavish castles and sculptures and ultimately turned her hobby and her therapy into a bona-fide business.

Known as “Sand Pirate,” Schrader gives lessons in sand sculpting to private parties, individuals, friends and families along the beach.

The name comes directly from her experience as a cancer survivor. Schrader is cancer-free today, but she remembers the after-effects of her treatment.

“I lost all my hair. (I) had to wear an eye patch,” she said. Doctors had to cut into her throat, and she says at times she couldn’t even brush her teeth.

Hence, the pirate.

She also takes her talent combining art with the sands of Lake Michigan’s shores to consumer shows, saying clients hire her and bring her out for radio and television interviews, running contests and to teach others how to build sandcastles – big, eye-catching sandcastles.

“My family thought I was crazy when I first told them I was going to charge people to teach them how to play in the sand,” Schrader said.

Years later, on the day of this interview, Schrader said, “I just quit my day job.

“Mostly what I do is for about 12 weeks out of the year, I teach people along the lake,” she said, adding she just acquired a permanent spot, a sandbox in Union Pier, just off the corner of Greenwood and Town Line roads.

Schrader offers classes at $30 per student for about a 40-minute session, and $100 per hour for private event classes.

Taking wet sand, Schrader teaches her clients how to pound the sand down and “carve it down into something;” often clients want to learn 3.5- to 4-foot sandcastles.

“There’s a concept of stacking sand and carving it down,” Schrader said. She teaches her students to build the castle, doors, windows, stairs and towers, and when all is done – she’s even found a way to build on the fun.