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Snow Sculpting: Fleeting but beautiful

by Parker Loew

After two decades of watching her parents carve snow at the Ely Winter Festival Snow Sculpting Symposium, Minnesota native Anna Von Duyke carves her own block.

“My parents have been snow sculpting for 25 years. They were unable to come up this winter. I was born in November and came up when I was two months old. My mom had me in her jacket when she was carving,” Von Duyke said.

I asked her whether she would ever help her parents carve their blocks.

“Usually, I was on shovel girl duty taking away all the snow they took off their sculpture. I have helped with minor details on their big blocks, but this is the first one I’ve done on my own,” she said.

I then asked her whether she was ever here with her parents when it was -30 degrees below zero.

“I mean it’s always so cold in Ely. The first time my parents came up it was -60 when they were carving,” she said.

I asked if she had any tips for staying warm while carving.

“Toe warmers, tea, hot chocolate, a fat-heavy breakfast, and going to sit in your car when you get cold.” she said.

Von Duyke had a giant bin of tools next to her sculpture. I asked her what the tools were used for and their names.

“My parents have conglomerated a bunch of random tools over the years. There is the serrated blade, spiral curry comb, giant saw, bowl, ladle, broom, drywall spackling tools, and chisels. It’s just a smorgasbord of tools really. Anything that can make a certain look or texture is in here.”

I interviewed Von Duyke when her sculpture was near complete. It was super intricate and detailed. Animals, roots, and mushrooms sprung to life all from a four-by-four foot block of snow. I wondered how she kept to the design she had in mind.

Von Duyke showed me a sketch of the design that she made beforehand.

“I also have a little sketch that lives in my brain. I stenciled around the outside, but you eventually chip away that snow. It’s hard to know how much to remove sometimes. My parents usually make a small clay model to size and have it sitting out.” she said.

I noticed on the sign in front of her sculpture that she was sculpting on behalf of Camp Widjiwagan. I also asked why she did a small instead of a big block.

“Yes, I am here with Camp Widjiwagan. That’s where I work right now. I wanted to do the big block but didn’t think I had enough time. I was also nervous about doing a big block without my family here. You have to use ladders, and it’s hard to see what you are doing,” she said.

I asked whether there was a prize for winning the amateur snow sculpting contest.

“Glory! Oh, and I also think you get a tool like a curry comb or something,” she said.

Before stopping at Von Duyke’s sculpture, I had talked with other sculptures that were having trouble with their snow.

I asked her if she experienced any issues with her snow.

“There was some snow that was more loosely packed than the other snow. The snow is the way it is based on the temperature and how it was packed in. Sometimes there is less snow in the winter, and dirt gets in the block, which is unfortunate. The blocks looked good this year. I like the snow this year.”

I asked her if any parts of her sculpture collapsed while sculpting.

“Yes! If something breaks or falls off, you kind of just have to go with it. That’s the nature of snow. It’s all going to melt, and it’s not permanent. You must take what you get and make it work out. That’s part of the beauty,” she said.

Von Duyke was awarded first place in the amateur snow carving contest along with the rest of the team that carved on behalf of camp Widjiwagan.

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