Every year, snow sculptors from the U.S. and Canada travel
to northern cities to carve huge works of art. They often depict things such as legends of sea monsters and native spirits. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, these artists are driven by a shared passion for the outdoors:
Every year, snow sculptors from the US and Canada travel to northern cities to carve huge works of art. They often depict things such as legends of sea monsters and native spirits. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, these artists are driven by a shared passion for the outdoors:
(sound of chipping and scraping)
Gary Tessier is jabbing a spade into the side of a towering block of snow. He and his team are here to compete in a snow sculpture competition in Gatineau, Quebec. It’s just across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, Canada’s capital. The team has 50 hours to transform this 16 foot high block of snow into a work of art. They work from 8:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night – shoveling, scraping and sawing.
“Basically, fundamentally, you use a good sharp spade and these homemade sander kind of things. A whole variety of tools and uh, it doesn’t take much.”
The team is creating a sculpture based on a legend of a fiddler from their hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The fiddler drowned in the Winnepeg River and the legend has it that people can still hear his music in the rapids. Gary uses the spade to follow the outline of a fiddle drawn in black magic marker on the snow.
“I’m working on one of the what do you call that? La manche… du violin… comment t’appelle ca? The fiddlehead! The fiddlehead. When we’re finished, hopefully it’ll be two fiddleheads and the fiddler surrounded by the water that well, he lost his life in, but went on to forever playing music.”
Gary and his sculpting partner Real Berard have been going to snow sculpting competitions for 25 years. They both work in the arts, Gary as an administrator and Real as an artist. Gary says they spend most of their time indoors, hunched over, working at a desk. Which is why he looks forward to a week outside, even if it’s 30 below.
“This is like a pilgrimage, literally, it clears my mind and clears the body, too, of all kinds of awful things. It’s just a reawakening, like a rebirth every time, it’s beautiful, it really is.”
And on the best days, Gary and Real say, the sculpture takes over.
Tessier: “You’re sort of going with the flow, going with the line and going where it’s going.”
Berard: “Yeah, and you see quite often, like we follow the lines. It seems like a snake. It wants to go someplace and there’s no way that you could… it’s stronger than your mind.”
Tessier: “Sometimes you try and fight it and don’t listen – this is really where this thing has got to go – and then ultimately it doesn’t work.”
Kelly: “That’s when you make a mistake?”
Tessier: “Yup, and it shows.”
Not that they’re that concerned about making mistakes. Of course they want the sculpture to look good, but they say they don’t care about winning, which was tough for Denis Vrignon-Tessier, Gary’s son, to accept. He’s 22 and has been with the team for 4 years.
Vrignon-Tessier: “Like at first, in a competition, I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be real disappointed if we lose,’ and stuff and then just being with them every year, they’ve just showed me that really, it’s not important.”
Kelly: “So what is it about?”
Vrignon-Tessier: “It’s about being here and spending time with them, just joking around, hearing what they have to say. Yeah.”
In the end, the sculpture has two giant violins. There’s a fiddler kneeling in front of them, playing in a swirl of water.
It doesn’t win.
The judges seem to like the sculptures with lots of details carved on them. But Gary and Real like bold, smooth shapes that will last for a while. And sure enough, after a couple days of freezing rain and warm temperatures, a lot of the detailed work on other sculptures is worn away. But the fiddler and the violins stay strong – ready to play into the spring.
For the GLRC, I’m Karen Kelly.