Artist inspired late in life creates swirling, meditative sand labyrinths
Denny Dyke has always considered himself a spiritual person. But until a few years ago, he wasn’t very artistic.
He had moved up to Oregon from Southern California and had spent some time practicing walking meditations on the beach. He would draw in the sand as he walked, sometimes creating intricate designs.
“They were mainly for myself, but a few people would show up,” Dyke tells MNN. Dyke felt the pull of the ever-changing landscape of the waves and the sand. He started to design complex, yet temporary, labyrinths that would soon be washed away by the tides.
“I decided if people were responding — and the response was pretty phenomenal — then I would keep doing it,” he says.
Dyke creates the designs from May through September. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Until this time, Dyke had a limited experience with art. His background is in operations management, but he days he has been heavily involved with spirituality, meditation and metaphysics throughout his life. But art? That’s new to him.
“Before this, painting a wall in the bedroom was about the best I could do,” say Dyke, 72. But people were intrigued and began drifting toward the beaches in Bandon, Oregon, to see his meditative paths.
Dubbing the venture Circles in the Sand, Dyke calls each creation a Dreamfield labyrinth. Each is a series of circles and spirals, all connected with one path. In 2015, the first full year he started drawing, Dyke drew about 70 labyrinths and had about 70 people at each event.
In 2018, he had more than 300 people for each event. Since the beginning, more than 40,000 people have walked his sand labyrinths.
“I had no idea where it was heading when it was starting. It really became quite a thing,” he says.
Walking the sand labyrinth. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Dyke typically draws from May through September. The process takes about two hours with Dyke’s team, including sand artist Christine Moehring. The only thing that stops him is rain or snow.
“I start out and look from above to see where I’m going to draw. It’s a different palette every day,” he says.
“It’s all free form. I use a rake and a staff and that’s it. It gives me the freedom to do whatever I want to do rather than know what I’m going to do before I get out there.”
Volunteer Betsy Rodenbush hands out a dream stone to visitors. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Each labyrinth is original and is about a quarter-mile to a half-mile to walk all the way through. Last year he drew the largest and longest: a two-acre labyrinth.
“They are very tide-driven because I draw below the tide line,” Dyke says. “That’s why summers are best. Longer days mean a longer tide.”
Each labyrinth also has a dedication circle with the intention of the day. It’s signed by Dyke and his team. Then everyone who visits can use chopsticks to sign a larger circle — about 35 to 40 feet in diameter.
“It’s really rewarding for me to see,” he says. “I’m really blessed to be able to do what I do.”
Denny Dyke greets a young visitor. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Dyke jokes that in the beginning he was sort of tricking people into meditating when they quietly walked his careful paths.
“Most people have wised up to me, so it’s not really true anymore,” he says. “I really promote community, oneness. Not very often any individual can go to one of the most beautiful beaches and be around so many people and still be alone.”
Sometimes people ask him what to expect when they come to one of his events.
“I say, ‘Enjoy your walk and we’ll talk afterwards,'” he says. “Leave all the other nonsense at home when you walk the labyrinth. Forget about the TV, the family. Enjoy the love, enjoy the ambiance of the ocean. It’s a special time.”
Dyke creates the public labyrinths on the beaches in Bandon, Oregon. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Dyke says for the most part people are incredibly respectful and thoughtful. He only remembers one incident where a woman was going down the beach, talking on her cellphone, and she walked right through the labyrinth, never even seeing it.
“One couple was so furious that someone had desecrated it,” he says. They ran out with rakes to clean the path she had made.
Mermaid sand art by Christine Moehring. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
In addition to his public drawing, Dyke also works with school groups. Larger classes come and walk the labyrinths. Members of smaller groups can be “groomers” who help keep the path clear and smooth.
Visiting the labyrinth is free. Dyke cannot accept donations because his work is on a public beach. He instead has sponsors, a system that helps him with the funding to continue his project.
In addition, he also creates special labyrinths for weddings, reunions and other events that generate a little more income.
Labyrinth artist Denny Dyke carries his sand rakes. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)
Dyke says it doesn’t make him sad or wistful that his work is so temporary.
“When I first started, I had a stay-up-way-from-the-water, attitude,” he says.
Then as he started drawing larger pieces, he says he did what he calls “tide chasers” close to the water so he could watch them wash away.
“Now, very rarely do I stay there until one is completely gone. Once it is first touched by the tide, it’s about an hour and a half before it’s completely gone,” Dyke says.
“There will always be another one. There is always fresh sand.”
Visitors of all ages walk a sand labyrinth. (Photo: Susan Dimock Photography)