A Visit to Ice Sculptures in Rice Park

In our duo, Becky’s always the one that worries about the blog getting too Complainy Pants McGee, which is what I call myself from time to time when I forget that I’m a Norwegian heritage Minnesotan Lutheran – a breed born for bottling up feelings and complaints. Or as Howard Mohr would say – “Not too bad.” So in an effort to bring some balance, here’s a little ditty on a trip I took last weekend.

We’d planned this as a cheap couples trip, but Becky was feeling under the weather, so I ended up making the trek alone. Total cost of this event – $1.50 in parking. And I over estimated my fortitude for cold by an hour. Luckily, some people were just parking when I got back to my car and I was able to give them my paid pass and spot for a free hour. Karma! (Which paid off later that day.)

Captain obvious weather report: It’s winter in Minnesota. One of the coldest in years. In Rice Park, St. Paul, artists from around the region gathered for an ice sculpture competition as part of Winter Carnival.

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There’s something about taking advantage of the climate with art that just fits. The seven entries in the multi-block competition were given 48 hours and 20 blocks of ice sized about 40 x 20 x 10” to create their pieces. Becky and I happened to be there on the first night they were beginning to assemble and carve their pieces (when we went to the opera). It was -5 degrees and slightly windy. We could hardly stand to be outside for 5 minutes, but these artists were fighting the elements as well as having sprays of ice shards flying into their faces from their chainsaws as they carved. That sort of dedication is impressive.

The sculptures were more so, particularly the contest winners. Ice is reeeeealy hard to photograph and give any justice to the details, especially given the white snow background. So when possible I include a few videos simply so I can move the camera and provide a bit of perspective.

“Fishing to Win” by Tom Schiller, Rob Graham and Trevor Pearson was the champion. They created a monument to Minnesota. Pandering? Maybe, but so what? The sculpture is a beautiful above and below the ice scene on a lake with an ice fishing house, a fisherman sitting outside with his pole and a cooler full of beverages. Below the ice, fish of various sizes circle each other menacingly, avoiding weeds, a broken rowboat, and the lure. The level of detail, with each plank of wood in the boat, each scale on the fish, each block of wood in the house, is amazing. The precarious balancing of the huge sheet of ice dividing the world above and below is about eye level to the viewer and mind bending to not see fall apart.

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“Aerial Aquatics” by Chad Peterson, Jerry Sarff and Eric Rotter took second place. This vertically oriented scene depicts several Minnesotan fish leaping into the air as if rising from an ocean of snow. Behind them is a delicate arch of ice to frame the rest of the sculpture.

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“Dream Chaser” by Greg Schmotzer and Chris Swarbrick is a Native American-inspired sculpture depicting a running man and wolf heading toward a dream catcher held by an eagle.

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The other sculptures were also impressive in their own ways, but I think the judges nailed the right winners of this shindig. Again – this kind of event is always a slam dunk – as it matches up so many elements – ice carving, cold weather, artists – into a beautiful turn on the harsh environment to create beauty. Can you ask for much more? Not unless you want to be greedy.

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Later that day, I used the sunny weather to dig out the car we never use because our apartment building was going to be plowing out the parking lots on Tuesday. After 20-30 minutes of scraping ice and snow and digging out around the car, I found that I had lost my only set of keys somewhere along the way.

If you don’t live here, you may not understand what a hopeless situation this is, surrounded by white powder that can cover keys in no time flat without a trace. When I told Becky, she just started laughing. She was still laughing about it days later.

I call it cashing in Karma from the earlier parking good will, but I found my keys again after digging a few tentative holes around the back trunk. It was a February miracle.

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