How I did it

Details about making the Snowman Maker 

In Duluth we usually get a fair amount of "lake effect" snow from Lake Superior while the lake remains Ice free. Its from water evaporating from the lake. Its light, dry and airy and it rarely falls far from the shore and being just up hill from Superior that's what this sculpture was made from.

I had a five inch snowfall to work from but that's less than it might seem. It was so airy that in a  few days gravity would have compacted it to half that depth. It took all the snow from my back yard, patio and driveway to build a pile in my front yard. I use a snow scoop to move it there. Piling it up speeds up its natural compression.

My notoriety is such that once snow has fallen people expect to see a sculpture pronto but I still like to wait for a warm day in the mid thirties to do my work. That guarantees sticky snow. The forecast fot the coming weekend gave me hope of having two such days in a row. However, I wouldn't have much time for the sculpture in my yard because I had offered to build a big sculpture for the Duluth Depot. I would have to whip something up in my yard very quickly in order to make use the warm temps on the Depot's larger sculpture. 

I wanted to sculpt another winter-themed work. In 2003 I made a father kneeling next to a child ice skating and I've made a couple attempts to capture people tobogganing, most recently last year.  I wanted to make someone building a snowman which certainly fit my work as a snow artisté.

It had rained the night before so and the sun had been shining so by the time I began to sculpt at 9 o'clock the snow was perfect for sculpting. I simply shoveled my pile up to about five feet where the snow man would stand and tried to avoid taking any snow from where my snowman builder would be positioned. I had plenty of snow with the extra lying hidden behind the sculpture.

Sculpting the two lower snow balls of the snowman was easy although, as I look at it now, they could have been a little bigger and rounder. I hadn't bothered to make a clay model beforehand (having spent the time making one for my Depot sculpture instead) but I thought the figure would be fairly simple to sculpt from scratch. I'd have been better off if I'd made a model in advance.

I had partially sculpted the "head" for my snowman and imagined myself pushing the head up to the top.  It was obvious to me that at that height I'd be kneeling with my left hand under the head. Unfortunately, a child would have been smaller and would not have been crouching the way I had to. Once I had carved a mitten under the head the size of my hand my sculptor was fated to become a grown-up not a kid. In fact, before I'd started I had it in mind to sculpt a couple kids, a lá the Iwo Jima flag raising, pushing and heaving to place the head on the snowman's shoulders. That turned out to be too ambitious for the time I had available.

I had hoped to get back to my sculpture later while the snow was still warm to polish it off but by the time I was finished at the Depot it had turned cold and I was otherwise engaged. Fortunately, the work on this sculpture went remarkably fast; about two hours. I knew that it was a little vulnerable to the sun because I had carved too much snow out from under my snowman maker's butt.  I hoped it would hold up until colder weather cemented it firmly into place. By the end of the day, however, the three inch gap between the tip of the elbow and the knee had almost completely shrunk to nothing.

It remains to be seen whether I will come back and improve upon it. My initial plan had been to make a second snowman with a carrot for a nose and dark stones for eyes or even put them on the head being raised up. That's the way it is for some artists who can't leg go of their work. I remember the story about an artist (and apparently its true) who would greatly vex the museum staff where his paintings hung. They would keep finding him in their galleries adding finishing touches to his old paintings.