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Sprinker snowman contest

Expert advice before Sunday’s snowman contest in Spanaway

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Before there were cities, governments or tacos, ancient people endeavored to sculpt natural substances into meaningful forms — monoliths to honor the seasons, shaped mounds of earth to celebrate ancient gods. Since then, environmental sculpture has become an ever-mutating pursuit, employing a vast, varied and growing variety of media — from bones to stones. Perhaps the most ephemeral of all natures’ media, snow presents challenges that strain a sculptor’s wit, will and wisdom.

At Sprinker Recreation Center at the apex of this Sunday’s mid-afternoon cheap skate, sculptors of all ages will be invited to wrestle with one of nature’s most mercurial mediums. That’s right — it’s a snowman contest. Bear witness.

“Creating an effigy of man from crystallized water is a deeply spiritual metaphor,” says renowned Austrian snow sculptor Herrman Fiest, who was recently the subject of the documentary film “Beyond Balls: the life and work of Herrman Fiest.”

“Myths from all over the world depict the world of form emerging from Maya, a sort of eternal cosmic liquid that is in-formed — crystallized — by the Godhead to become the universe we inhabit. Maya is etymologically related to words like matrix, matter, meter and mother. There is a clear link between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Maya. The snowman is a metaphor for all creation.”

The techniques of the snow artists are distinct. As a medium, snow can be as frustrating as any substance — mostly because it’s really cold, says Fiest. And it melts. Snow has dozens of consistencies — from corn-like nuggets to delicate powder. A good snow artist can work with any variety, but a semi-wet, large-flaked, fluffy snow is best. Snow artists are advised to wear warm gloves to avoid getting “the tingles,” but gloves should be thin, with fingers.

“Bulky gloves restrict tactile sensitivity,” says Fiest. “It is very hard to craft fine details such as eyelashes and the inner folds of the ear while wearing mittens.”

The typical snowman begins by rolling three smaller balls into three larger balls of ascending size. The balls are then stacked, with the largest ball forming the base, and the smallest ball becoming the head.

Extra snow is then packed between the balls to unify the form. Limbs can be fashioned from sticks and small rocks, but such crudities rarely win contests, says Fiest. A good “packing snow” can be formed into limbs, appendages, props, facial features — even clothes. From there, let imagination reign, and don’t be limited by tradition.

“Some people have campaigned to replace the chauvinistic ‘snowman’ with ‘snow person.’ I have begun to make snow women for social and artistic reasons,” says Fiest. “It is our responsibility as artists to continuously evolve.”

[Sprinker Recreation Center, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2:30 p.m., $4, 14824 S. C St., Spanaway, 253.798.4003]

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