Sculptors wow crowd with 40-tonne skates

A monumental pair of hockey skates — nearly five metres high — by two Central Albertan artists won top prize at the Winterlude National Snow Sculpture Competition in Gatineau, Que., this past weekend.

Snow sculptors Brian McArthur

Snow sculptors Brian McArthur

A monumental pair of hockey skates — nearly five metres high — by two Central Albertan artists won top prize at the Winterlude National Snow Sculpture Competition in Gatineau, Que., this past weekend.

The sculpture, titled Snow Skates, was the work of snow sculptors Brian McArthur of Red Deer, Michael Decaire of Mirror and Eric Burton of Edmonton.

The teams worked with a 40-tonne block of snow close to five metres high, more than three metres deep and more than three metres wide. Starting on Feb. 9 and working until Feb. 13, the three men sculpted the snow for up to 12 hours each day, putting in 55 hours altogether to finish the artwork on time.

The artists roughed out the design using shovels then used carving tools and scraping tools known as rasps, working from the top of the project down to the ground, to create the unique design.

“It’s really physically demanding,” said Decaire, who has made furniture for more than 30 years, with his business Michael Decaire Fine Furniture. “It’s snow and you think it’s soft and it’s easy to move around. But it’s almost like you’re shovelling your driveway for four and a half days.”

McArthur said they got the idea to make the world’s largest pair of skates to go with the Rideau Canal, which is often called “the world’s largest skating rink”. The theme for this year’s Winterlude was Winter Play, with the mandate to promote winter activities, so the skates were a perfect fit.

McArthur said one of the details people enjoyed with the sculpture were the laces, which he spent two days making.

As part of the prize, the sculptors won $6,000 in the competition, which is run by the National Capital Commission in collaboration with the Ville de Gatineau. The sculptors also have their flights and other expenses paid to attend the competition. McArthur’s team has placed five out of the past six years he has been attending, including a first-place finish last year as well.

“It’s great opportunity to make a large scale sculpture in a short period of time,” McArthur said.

The well-known ceramics artist and sculptor created the Brick Bunny on 48th Street in Red Deer and a giant pair of legs for an LRT station in Edmonton, with his wife Dawn Detarando. “I really enjoy winter and I really enjoy being outdoors and it’s kind of a little bit of an athletic event as well as an artistic event because it’s a strenuous four or five days.”

Decaire said it is a real joy to create something like this with a team. In his second year at the competition, he was also impressed with the camaraderie among all of the teams, with each sharing ideas with others.

“(The other sculptors are) the nicest people you could imagine. They’re really giving, they show you their tools,” Decaire said. “Even though it is a competition people want everybody to make something good.”

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