Extremely Cool Art

By Huntington, Sharon J. | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Extremely Cool Art


Huntington, Sharon J., The Christian Science Monitor


Every January, strange creatures appear in Breckenridge, Colo. You might spot a dragon, an elephant, or a pair of giant hands in a parking lot of the winter resort. Other strange but graceful objects also take form as teams from around the world compete to create sculptures of snow.

This year, 15 teams came from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England, Mexico, Russia, Argentina, Canada, and the United States. They sent in drawings of their proposed sculptures months ago. A selection committee chose the final competitors based on their sketches.

Teams began working on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and had until Saturday morning (Jan. 20) to finish. These statues are a lot of work!

Instead of rolling a few balls of snow together, snow sculptors carve huge snow blocks. Before they arrive, the snow is carefully prepared. First, snow is packed into 10-by-10-by-12-ft. blocks. Man- made snow is used to make sure the snow is wet enough to hold together well. The snow is packed tightly so that it will hold its shape when carved.

This was Stan Wagon's third year on the Minnesota team. He and teammate Dan Schwalbe teach mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. All their sculptures have been based on mathematical concepts. Last year's entry, "Rhapsody in White," took second place. It also won the People's Choice and Artists' Choice awards.

On Saturday, Wagon and his team didn't do as well. They won no prizes. A team from Suhr, Switzerland, took first prize with "Circle of Life." The Russian team was second with "Izla-Spa." A team from Quebec, Canada, won third with "Nylon Island."

But according to Mr. Wagon, everyone is a winner at a snow- sculpture contest. People are friendly, and teams have time to get acquainted. Some teams don't speak a lot of English, but they're all there to have fun. So are the 40,000 people who come to check out the sculptures during the contest.

Each team can have four sculpting members, plus one person to take pictures, run errands, and answer visitors' questions. Besides Wagon and Schwalbe, the Minnesota team consisted of John Bruning (head of a lensmaking company in Rochester, N.Y.) and Robert Longhurst (an experienced wood and stone sculptor from Chesterton, N.Y.).

Working in snow has a few advantages over wood or stone. If you chip out a little too much snow, you can probably pack some back in, something you can't do with stone. …

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