If you have driven down Broadway Street in Yorkton the last few days you no doubt noticed two people braving the cold as they hacked, sawed and carved away on a huge block of snow in City Centre Park.
The duo of snow carvers were Theressa Wright and Terry Ouelette of Saskatoon, and their snow sculpt creation is entitled 'Huggable'.
Wright began sculpting snow in 1994 after somebody had suggested that since she carved stone, she might enjoy carving snow. Since that first sculpture, Theressa has designed and been the lead sculptor / captain at events ranging across the country (Charlottetown, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Whitehorse) as well as in several Saskatchewan communities.
Ouelette began sculpting snow in 2006 because it was something he could do with Theressa. Since 2006, he has worked on 28 sculptures with Theressa across Canada and overseas in Harbin China, Pontebba Italy, and Kiruna Sweden.
The creation of the piece, if one were to stand back and watch for a while, seems to just happen as the tandem cut away chunks of snow here and there on the block, but it is actually a process that has been carefully planned.
The pre-design work for 'Huggable' included a small plaster maquette, a small scale model of the planned sculpture, giving the carvers a three-dimensional reference.
Nearby sat a binder that contained gridded page, each square representing a one-foot by one-foot area of the block, each page a different angle of reference.
And of course there was the snow block itself.
Ouelette explained the snow needs to be as clean as possible so that the sculpture not only looks nice and starkly white, but because any debris would hinder carving.
It also needs to be firmly packed. Pointing to a hole in the snow Ouelette termed the flaw 'popcorn' and the more popcorn in a block the harder to carve, especially once they are at a point of adding detail.
So a block, in the case of Huggable, emerging from an 8X8 block, rather standard for a smaller scale snow sculpture, noted Ouelette, begins with the search for, as their website notes "perfect snow that is clean and plentiful. Some events use artificial snow, so they just make as much as they need. While others go to great lengths to find the snow and truck it to the site."
"Once enough snow has been stockpiled for all the blocks it is time to fill the forms (usually made from wood due to the immense outward pressure of the snow when it is compacted). Front end loaders (or massive snowblowers) are used to fill the forms. Once there is a bunch of snow in the form, it is time for the stompers to pack the snow down and get rid of as many lumps as possible. They are also trying to ensure any cracks are filled. This goes on until the form is filled."
In the case of the Yorkton block the form was donated to the project by Deneschuk Homes, noted Lisa Washington, Community Development Manager, Community Development, Parks & Recreation with the City of Yorkton.
With the block ready, the carvers arrived in Yorkton to begin work Tuesday, bringing a pile of carving gear with them - about a hundred pounds worth including "sandpaper, brushes, chisels, an ice auger, roofing truss joiners and specially designed tools," noted their website. "Each one does something different. For example, we use sandpaper to smooth out the ridges and marks created by the chisels and other sharp tools. There is also a wire wrapped around an orange string holder. This wire has grommets crimped onto it to create a saw that is capable of going through 25-feet of snow and sometimes ice."
So how did Wright and Ouelette become interested in bundling into snowmobile suits, bulky boots, and big mitts to go outside and carve snow sculptures?
For Wright, carving snow is on a larger scale that gets realized in a fairly short period of time (3-4 days), especially when compared to carving the same scale in stone (several months).
In Ouelette’s case, he wanted to work and travel with Theressa. While noting he doesn’t have an artistic background, he said working with snow compares with some of the active sports that he has competed in.
Wright and Ouelette work in more than the medium of snow, the website showing a variety of ghastly and awesome Halloween pumpkins they have created, although snow came many years before pumpkins in Wright’s case.
For Ouelette it is a reverse situation. Pumpkin carving came shortly after he was introduced to snow sculpture.
While seemingly quite different they both come down to the art of carving.
"Scale, and being able to carve pumpkins indoors in the warmth of a house, are some of the biggest differences," they noted. "We don’t carve traditional jack o’lanterns, but do a 3-D versions. Coming up with ideas works the same way. We have many sketches around the house for both pumpkins and snow sculptures. Pumpkins have a more consistent texture to carve than snow blocks. With snow, we can run into all kinds of debris, ice chunks, and cracks / voids in the blocks."
Wright added, "that the pumpkins are hollow and that presents problems in itself. We look for heavy pumpkins so that we can carve more intricate designs / features. Even with that, we sometimes add pieces of other pumpkins / vegetables / fauna to create truly outstanding pumpkins."
Of course in Yorkton it was all about the snow, which has its own challenges for carvers.
Besides the severe weather (can also mean too warm), Ouelette noted he believes that "finding the sculpture inside the block is the most challenging. It is very difficult sometimes to see the various features of the sculpture."
Wright added "climbing the block, and then carving the sculpture without being able to step back easily while on the block. You know you want to carve something, but reaching it is sometimes very difficult to do while maintaining safety."
The Yorkton carving is not their first. It was a carving in their front yard that Washington saw online that had them invited to do the local piece with funding from Saskatchewan Lotteries Community Grants and Parkland Valley Sport, Culture& Recreation. The duo have travelled extensively to carve, take in festivals and carving events.
In fact for Ouelette being able to travel across the country and overseas is probably the thing that stands out.
"The very best is being invited to Harbin China to participate in the world’s largest snow and ice festival," he said, adding growing up, he never thought he’d ever go to China, "let alone represent Canada in a snow sculpture event."
Wright too has had many great memories over the last 27 years. One that she remembers fondly was in Kiruna Sweden.
Wright said she never dreamed that she’d ever go north of the Arctic Circle, "let alone do a snow sculpture there." She noticed that the people accepted winter and were dressed for the cold. "The cold didn’t slow them down, they just dressed for the weather. They walked and even came by and visited the sculptors.
"The other part of what made this event special was that the snow was awesome -- clean with no ice -- easy to carve and all natural. Winning the Artist’s Choice Award was a great bonus."
So as scow sculptors do they have favourite pieces?
Wright said that the current piece is always a favourite piece, but Suspended Beauty (2013 in their front yard) stands out because it was in our own yard, she was able to play with adding lights specific to the sculpture.
"Normally sculptors are at the mercy of the lighting of the event. The other thing that made this a favourite piece is that the lady’s face was supported by the strands of hair," she said.
Ouelette said he thinks that HéHo Bonne Fête Festival (Winnipeg 2019) is his favourite.
"The sculpture was a popular one for the Festival visitors, as evidenced by the many photos on social media," he said.
You can check out more of the pair's work at frostytidbits.com