UPDATE BELOW: January 27, 2014
By late January, many Vermonters have had their fill of snow. But one small group of Burlington artists not only loves it but needs it. Snow is their medium.
“I’ve been making big, strange things in my garage as long as I’ve had a garage,” says Michael Nedell, a potter and sculptor as well as partner and CTO of the Burlington-based company Localvore Today. When he saw some snow sculptures on the Burlington waterfront during the city's Winter Fest in 1999, he was immediately hooked.
Over the years since then, Nedell and three other local artists — Adrian Tans, Brooke Monte and Alex Dostie — won the state snow-sculpting competition seven times, and as "Team Vermont" have represented their state in national competitions seven times. They've consistently placed in the top six teams and came in second two years. Last year, they won.
Lindsay J. Westley interviewed the team in Seven Days just before their successful trip to Wisconsin.
Around the third week of January 2014, Team Vermont will travel to snowy Breckinridge, Colo., to compete in the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships. They’ll be one of just three American teams in competition, and the only one from Vermont. (The other two are from Colorado.)
The Vermonters are eager to represent their state in the contest. Nedell says that their goal is not only to win at the international level but “to show the world that people from Vermont have a serious aesthetic sense and a serious skill set when it comes to crafting.”
Sixteen teams from all over the world have entered the competition; snowier regions are well represented, with teams from Iceland, Finland, Russia, Estonia and two from Mongolia. Curiously, several countries not generally associated with snow — Spain, Mexico and Italy — also will field teams.
Even if the competitors from warmer climes forget their fur-lined hats, the event is sponsored by Budweiser, after all, so there’ll be plenty of liquid body-warmer on hand. “And the Germans make margaritas every year,” notes Nedell. Go figure.
Each team is composed of four members, and they’ll have a total of 65 hours to carve a 10-by-10-by-12-foot block of snow into ... something. There are no restrictions on the artistic content of the sculptures (besides the generally accepted bounds of family friendliness), but teams are forbidden from using dyes, armatures or power tools. Only hand tools — saws, wire and carving devices of various types — are permitted.
And the only acceptable materials all have the chemical formula H2O: snow, water and ice.
You may be thinking, Hey, I’ve been known to make a mean snowman — honey, let’s pack our bags for Colorado!
Not so fast. This competition is invitation only. The event’s committee sent out invites in July to 250 teams, who then have about three months to submit their designs as sketches. On the strengths of those sketches, 16 competing teams are chosen.
Team Vermont's sketch of a sculpture called "Fugue" — of a conductor surrounded by a cylinder of swirling musical notes — is below."Fugue," the sketch that got Team Vermont accepted into the competition this year.
The snow sculptors in this contest compete solely for honor and glory: Medals and ribbons, not cash, are the only rewards for the winners. Though the teams are given room and board, they must pay for their own plane fare. Team Vermont will be hauling about 150 pounds of tools and hardware across the Rockies, to boot.
That's why they’re holding a silent-auction fundraiser to defray the costs of travel and competition, at ArtsRiot in Burlington on January 10.
The members of Team Vermont may not get rich sculpting in snow, but their unusual art does have at least one major fringe benefit: They can use it to make a shelter to survive a frigid, snowy night in the wild. Could Nedell use his skills to whip an igloo, if needed?
“Oh, yeah, no problem,” he replies. “It would be pretty good-looking, too, with a little den, and a place for the dog.”
Team Vermont's fundraiser will take place at ArtsRiot in Burlington on Friday, January 10, 7-9 p.m.
If you're tired of normal, drifted snow, why not hop a flight to Breckinridge, Colo., where the amazing artworks from the 2014 International Snow Sculpture Championships will be on display until February 2?
Alas, Team Vermont didn't pick up any prizes this time around: Hometown favorites Team USA-Breckinridge took first place with their piece "Winter Fun," which depicts a group of children sledding. Team Germany's minimalist work "Apecheta" took second place, and Team USA-Wisconsin's sculpture "Wanderer," a snowy butterfly, came in third.
Prizes, shmizes. These are all pretty amazing works, especially considering that the only material is frozen water. The competition's Facebook page has many photos; for now, check out some pictures, below, of Team Vermont's piece, "Fugue," which impresses for its detail and laciness.The interior of "Fugue" (Photo: Carl Scofield) Team Vermont sculpting "Fugue" (Photo: Carl Scofield)Team Vermont sculpting "Fugue" (Photo: Carl Scofield)