BARBERTON — Tom Morrison pulls out a small brush and swipes sand away from Willie Nelson’s guitar.

Not the real country musician, mind you, but a sand sculpture that he’s creating for the 28th annual Mum Fest at Lake Anna.

With the theme this year being “Mum Fest Rocks,” Morrison, who has been building sand sculptures at the festival for nearly two decades, is busy transforming 8 tons of sand into life-size replicas of Nelson, Mick Jagger and Elton John. He also plans to design some drums and a guitar or two.

“I could have just carved a bunch of rocks,” he said this week with a laugh.

His sculptures will be on display for the two-day Mum Fest, which takes place Sept. 29-30. The free event features 17,000 mums in full bloom and the traditional flower arch, along with food vendors, live music, arts and crafts, canoe races, water ski shows and a children’s play area with makeshift musical instruments such as buckets that can be hit with drumsticks and pots and pans that can be struck with flip-flops.

The Mum Fest attracts anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 people each year.

Thanks to the rock ‘n' roll theme, the mum gardens at the northeast corner of Lake Anna have been arranged in the shape of a guitar. There also will be a display in the shape of a record.

“It’s one of the more complicated designs that we’ve done,” Lisa McLean, who runs Barberton Parks and Recreation, said about the guitar.

Morrison, 72, a retired firefighter from Akron and professional sand artist, makes sure that his sand sculptures fit the theme. He has become as much of a fixture at the event as the flowers.

Two weeks before the festival each year, he’s under a tent and inside a wooden picket fence on the west side of the lake next to the gazebo working on his sculptures. He listens to sports or talk radio on a portable Sony radio while he sculpts.

“It’s a great place to work,” he said.

Morrison is often interrupted by people walking by who want to know what he’s making or how it’s going. And he’s more than willing to stop and chat.

Morrison chose Nelson, Jagger and John to sculpt because of their distinctive facial features that will show up in sand. Nelson’s face is full of wrinkles and he has long braids of hair. Meanwhile, Jagger has those full lips and John wears outlandish glasses.

Morrison used to travel around the world building sand sculptures and even founded the International Association of Sand Castle Builders. He’s retired from doing it professionally but enjoys the Mum Fest so much that he continues to participate.

“You can’t go cold turkey,” he said.

He can’t recall how many times he’s been at the festival, saying it’s at least been 18 years.

He has two favorite sculptures from the Mum Fest. One was an American flag surrounded by people holding hands that he did right after 9/11. The other was a detailed replica of the former Barberton Inn.

The only bothersome part of the job are the squirrels.

His tent sits under large oak trees and the critters will sometimes attack his sculptures to get acorns buried in the sand.

As for how he got into sand sculpting?

“I just got bored at the beach,” Morrison said, laughing.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.