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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Snow Sculpture

With apologies to Robert Indiana, some people LOVE snow.
That's snow ordinary Batman,
and far removed from an
ordinary snowman.
First you collect a LOT of the stuff. This sculptural medium is prone to very rapid deterioration on days like today in Ohio (92 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade). Seriously, I went in search of a cool topic for a very hot summer day. (It came down to either snow or air-conditioned art museums.) Although few people would claim to be sculptors, a similar few have never, ever, tried their hand at this sculptural media. And before you wonder why I'm waxing eloquent regarding the "Frosty" front lawn guardian of winter, let me assure you, this versatile, though quite frustrating and technically demanding medium, soars far beyond the common, everyday, run-of-the-mill snowmen we've all created as children or parents of children.
The Japanese have even perfected
the art of snow portraiture, in
this case, golfer, Ryo Ishikawa.

This is not about the seemingly more noble medium of ice sculpture (04-01-13). Though they might appear to be similar, snow is different from ice. Though winter wonderland artists might endlessly argue the point, to my way of thinking, and bearing in mind my rather limited experience in either medium, I'd say snow is probably the more technically difficult of the two. Ice is firm, hard, and relatively strong. Snow is none of these. Sculptors attack ice with chisels and chainsaws. Snow is delicately formed with butter knives, shovels, spoons, and maybe the occasional hacksaw. If all else fails, bare hands may be the order of the day. Whatever the case, the operant description of the medium, under even the coldest, most blustery, ideal winter conditions is "fragile." (Whee, I'm feeling cooler already.)
It doesn't snow much in Athens, Greece, so the Japanese constructed their
version of the Parthenon to commemorate the Athens Olympics in 2004.
(14 meters high, 20 meters wide, 26 meters long)
Snow sculptures (along with those of ice) are the hallmark of today's highly popular winter carnivals spread broadly over the northern hemisphere among countries all around the world. Harbin, China, has one of the oldest ones, St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the best in the U.S. If you're thinking in terms of rolling up a giant snowballs, and perhaps stacking them and patting them into shape with clumsy mitten-clad hands, you're definitely a rank amateur. Serious snow carvers pack their 20-30 degree material into rectangular cubes, leaving it to refreeze overnight, before upending their molds and moving the resulting blocks into position for carving not unlike the Egyptians used limestone three-thousand years ago.
How it's done--scaffolding, a broom, and a steady hand.
The difference is, aside from the temperature and overall weight of the materials, snow sculptors today are far more creative than their Egyptian counterparts. The best the Egyptians could do was Ramses II and maybe a sphinx or two. Though snow sculptors are the first to recognize and respect the limitations of their medium, there is virtually no theme (from the mean machine to the obscene extreme) which they will not attempt. There are failures. Snow does not "overhang" well (and if it does, not for long). Height seems to be no limitation, and snow takes well to small details, modeled or molded when the need for repetition arises. Far more than their icy counterparts, snow sculptors must be "engineers." Forget starting out with only a vague idea and hoping for the best. The most successful snow sculptures are drawn out, sometimes to full-scale, front, side, and top, then executed with all the precision of Michelangelo carving his David. Yet, unlike white marble, white snow is more forgiving, allowing for inspired, momentary creativity far more akin to wax or clay than any other medium. The only problem seems to be the lack of the sizable freezer space sufficient to preserve such works of art.
If you build it, they will come--the biggest fans of snow sculpture.

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