For several months each year, a heap of snow blankets Winnipeg, signaling the beginning of the city’s great slumber. To leave their homes, Winnipeggers must wade through or shovel away an ever-increasing density of snow. The laborious repetition of shoveling and wading begs the question: why even bother going out?
Festival du Voyageur has an answer, and it’s found in appreciating the unique artistic opportunity that comes with this seasonal substance. Inside Voyageur Park and across the City of Winnipeg, the International Snow Sculpture Symposium, hosted by Festival Du Voyageur, has invited artists from around the world for 29 years to think of creative ways to mold snow into beautiful structures.
Christel Lanthier, the sculpture coordinator, says the symposium is an opportunity to bring people out of the cold to appreciate the sculptures while forging an international sculpting community.
“Because it’s not a competition, there is a lot more sharing, knowledge sharing, tool sharing and a lot more collaboration,” Lanthier says. ‘It’s a lot less stressful than a competition environment.”
One local participant, Karen Schlichting, is an experienced snow sculptor. Schlichting was introduced to the art form around 15 years ago through a cousin who, after participating in a snow- and ice-sculpting competition, left behind a series of tools that she’d try her hand at.
After creating a series of sculptures in her yard, Schlichting fell in love with the medium and method that she characterized as “little ephemeral gems” with a texture similar to, but “not quite like butter.”
Eventually, Schlichting got involved with Festival du Voyageur and found an opportunity to regularly show off her creations to large crowds while also connecting with the francophone community.
“It’s like a magical medium. It’s so huge, it’s forgiving, it’s free, and it varies each year,” Schlichting says. “Some years it can be beautiful, some years it can be ugly.”
This year, Schlichting is working on a piece that depicts a moment of “curious intimacy” between two sheep sniffing each other’s butts that playfully captures the post-COVID experience.
The sculpting symposium also gives new artists a chance to try carving snow. Maddie Magnus-Walker, who previously participated in a snow-sculpting workshop hosted by Festival du Voyageur, is collaborating on a piece outside the Fort Garry Hotel in connection with both Festival du Voyageur and the 2023 Winter Cities Shake-up Conference.
Like all the sculptures, Magnus-Walker’s piece will provide an opportunity for people to get out and appreciate the marvels of the powdery medium. Specifically, she says the 360-degree nature of a snow sculpture forces individuals to be awakened and active, intellectually and physically, in this cold climate.
“You have to move around the pieces to get the whole thing, which helps with the idea of movement in the winter – a time where people usually slow down,” Magnus-Walker says.
Schlicting echoes the value of snow sculpting as a way to get both audiences and sculptors active in the winter.
“The tendency is to not be outside in the winter, because, you know, it’s freezing and terrible,” Schlichting says. “And then ... you realize that being outside and moving around is a beautiful thing. By crossing that bitter, terrible feeling, the world opens up.”
Published in Volume 77, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 16, 2023)