Sundre sculptor Morton Burke was among the international artists who created snow sculptures in China. His depiction of bisons suggests a West-meets-East theme. (Contributed photo).

Sundre artist returns from China with snow sculpting award (and no virus)

Morton Burke and his team created 14-foot high bisons carving

Sundre artist Morton Burke collaborated with global talent — some who had never seen a buffalo before — on an award-winning bison ice sculpture in China.

Burke flew to Asia in mid-January to participate in the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

The festival is held in northern China, near Mongolia, and is far from the epicentre of the new coronavirus epidemic in the now-quarantined city of Wuhan.

Burke said he only found out about the virus outbreak after he returned to Canada.

“I was initially worried about being locked up in a tin can (airplane) with other travellers from China,” he admitted feeling after hearing about the virus — but is relieved to be showing no symptoms.

Burke called the Harbin festival a thrilling event, where an “entire city” was carved out of ice and snow.

He had organized a team of sculptors from around the world to enter in the snow carving competition. They ended up winning an award of excellence for an enormous sculpture called Power of Nature.

Their 14-foot sculpture featured four buffalo heads merging at the top of their humps.

The artistic statement was: “The earth faces many dangers to its beauty and its animals… If man took direction from nature, (its force could be used) to save the world.”

The team included Burke’s sister Brontie Burke of Calgary, Gerard Motondi from Kenya, and Beata Rostas from Hungary. (Brontie had to step in to replace a Vietnamese artist who had to bow out because of an illness in his family).

Although the sculptors had never worked together before — and two had never seen a live buffalo — they completed their project with about 45 minutes to spare, over nearly three and a half days.

The world’s largest ice and snow carving festival featured 29 teams of sculptors. Burke called the level of competition “incredible… Our team was really pleased to complete our sculpture and know that people enjoyed it.”

Burke added it was a big surprise to be awarded a gold medal in the category of excellence in sculpture. It came with a cash prize equal to about $2,000.

With this success behind him, he feels it would be “great fun” to bring the same team back to Harbin, or compete in another ice and snow event.

Burke is known for his Bergen Rocks Sculpture Park, as well as for loaning some of the international-artist-created sculptures from his property to create another park in Olds.

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