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Snow much fun: DLHS art students make larger-than-life snow sculptures as part of Polar Fest

Abby Gray, left, and Sheyenne Norberg form two of the tentacles on their giant snow sculpture of an octopus at the City Park on Wednesday. Teams of students from the Detroit Lakes High School Advanced Placement Drawing Class competed in a snow sculpting competition as part of this year's Polar Fest/Ice Palace festivities. In the background, more students can be seen working on their polar bear and dragon sculptures. Marie Johnson / Tribune1 / 9
The snow sculptures were almost complete by late Wednesday afternoon. Pictured here are the octopus, the polar bear and the dragon. Marie Johnson / Tribune2 / 9
Max Staley shovels snow away from the base of his team's polar bear sculpture so they can start carving out the bear's legs. Marie Johnson / Tribune3 / 9
Sophia Johnson puts some final details on her team's sculpture of a dragon. Teammate Kyra Hubbard can be seen standing on the right as an onlooker admires their work. The dragon was the winner of the snow sculpting competition, judged by the Ice Palace Committee. Marie Johnson / Tribune4 / 9
Lexy Stearns, left, and Lauren Krengel can be seen through the fingers of their giant hand sculpture as they work on a small Cupid cradled in the hand. They chose their design for its tie-in to Valentine's Day, the day the competition was held. Marie Johnson / Tribune5 / 9
Emma Fegely scrapes snow away from the polar bear sculpture to start shaping the back of its legs. Marie Johnson / Tribune6 / 9
The students prepared for the big day by first sketching out their designs and then making 3-D clay versions of them to use as models for their final snow sculptures. Pictured here is the dragon model. Marie Johnson / Tribune 7 / 9
The young artists put finishing touches on their snow sculptures late Wednesday afternoon. All four sculptures can be seen here -- the dragon, polar bear, octopus and hand. Marie Johnson / Tribune8 / 9
Elise Lakin uses her hand to scoop snow away from one of the tentacles on her team's octopus sculpture. Marie Johnson / Tribune9 / 9

They said it was kind of like building a snowman—but a lot more complicated.

Bundled up in their snowsuits and wielding tools of all shapes and sizes, 14 Detroit Lakes High School art students spent all day Wednesday making snow sculptures at the City Park, just downwind of King Isbit's Ice Palace.

Starting with nothing more than some tall, rectangular blocks of snow, the four teams of students each shoveled, scooped, sawed and in every other possible way shaped those blocks into four unique and larger-than-life designs: a dragon's head, the Coca-Cola polar bear, an octopus and a hand reaching up toward the sky.

The sculptures ranged in width from roughly 3 feet at the narrowest (the polar bear's legs) to a sprawling 20 feet (the octopuses' tentacles), and were at least as tall as the students themselves; most teams needed to use a ladder to reach the tops of their sculptures.

Starting at 9 a.m. that morning, the young artists got out their snow shovels, hand saws and other large tools to shape the basic form of their sculptures. Later in the afternoon, up until about 3 p.m., they fine-tuned and texturized their designs using various sorts of scrapers, ice picks, hand shovels and other smaller tools.

The day's weather proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the kids. After a weeks-long string of subzero temperatures, Wednesday was warm; really warm for Feb. 14 in Minnesota—sunny and reaching into the mid-40s. The sculptors said they enjoyed spending the nice day outside but the above-freezing temperatures created some difficult snow conditions.

At first, the students said, the morning snow was still too cold—it wouldn't stay packed. By early afternoon it had warmed up to an ideal consistency and was perfect to work with. But as the day wore on, it got too warm and watery.

"If it was a little colder right now, this wouldn't be so hard," said Sarah Kapphahn as she tried to shape a finger of the giant hand. "The snow's gone from not sticking, to sticking too much."

The effect of the heat was evident not just in the snow, but also the ice—a few of the more delicate ice sculptures on display in the City Park came crashing down Wednesday afternoon, succumbing to the beaming sunshine. By the time of this writing on Thursday, more ice sculptures had come down, and some of the snow sculptures had already fallen, as well.

Despite the challenges and the short-lived nature of their medium, the students said they had a good time working on their sculptures, and the happy, bustling energy all around them made it all the better. The ideal weather brought a lot of people out to the park that day, so the sculptors had a big come-and-go audience appreciating their efforts as they worked. Couples walked by with their dogs, families stopped over before taking pictures in front of the Ice Palace, and whole classrooms of elementary school students "oohed" and "aahed" over the snow sculptures before laughing all the way down the nearby tubing hill.

Making snow sculptures was a new experience for the art students. None of them had ever made a snow sculpture before. Most of them had never made any kind of sculpture at all.

"It's been a great experience," said art teacher Claire Danner. "This is totally a new thing for them—this is actually a drawing class, but these kids are just great artists, so it's been fun."

Danner said the Ice Palace Committee reached out to her, wanting to involve local students in the Polar Fest/Ice Palace festivities this year. They came up with the idea of a snow sculpting competition, and Danner chose her Advanced Placement Drawing Class students because she knew they'd be up for the challenge.

Prior to the big day, the students got a lesson in snow and ice sculpting from local artists Hans Gilsdorf and Eric Rotter, who have been instrumental in the creation of the Ice Palace and ice sculptures at the City Park this year.

The teams and their creations

Sculpting Team No. 1, made up of Sophia Johnson, Kyra Hubbard, Kaitlyn Riehle and Megan Sorum, said the hardest part of making their dragon was just "finding him in the block," slimming him down to the right size and shape and achieving the right "symmetry" so he didn't look crooked.

They, like the other teams, prepared for the challenge by first drawing a sketch of their design, and then creating a 3-D clay version of it to use as a model for their final snow sculpture. Hubbard was the one who came up with the idea of making a dragon. Knowing the sculptures would be located near the Ice Palace, she said the inspiration came to her right away because, "Every castle needs a dragon!"

They named him Puff. He ended up winning the competition.

About 20 feet away, Team No. 2 was hard at work on their polar bear. The tallest sculpture of the four, it was also the only one to stand on two legs. Like the bears from the classic commercials, it clutched a bottle of Coke in its paws. Teammates Max Staley, Emma Fegely and Cortney Brodsho said they wanted their sculpture to fit with the wintry theme of Polar Fest and the Ice Palace, so a polar bear was a natural pick.

Team No. 3 chose to make an octopus. Elise Lakin said they thought their design would be relatively simple to create—"because we've never done sculpture before"—while still making a big visual impact.

She and her teammates, Henry Vogt, Abby Gray and Sheyenne Norberg, spent a lot of time perfecting the body of the octopus and shaping its tentacles. While they dealt with their share of difficulties, one of the stress-free things about working with snow, Norberg said, is that "if you mess up, you can just slap some more back on."

The octopus wore a little top hat made of ice.

Team No. 4, Lauren Krengel, Lexy Stearns and Sarah Kapphahn, wanted their sculpture to set itself apart from the rest. Rather than make an animal, or something wintry, they chose a different, but still fitting, theme for the day—love. After going online to find some inspiration, they settled on Cupid, cradled in the palm of a giant hand, for their design. The competition was on Valentine's Day, after all.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 4-year-old son and toddler daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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