The crazy house is Baba Yagas’ house on chicken legs that was commissioned by the Silver Skate Festival in Edmonton in 2013.

Mother Nature the ice sculptor’s adversary

Snow sculptor Brian McArthur has carved legendary Quebec strongman Louis Cyr, an accordion-playing Mountie, and an enormous pair of hockey skates.

Snow sculptor Brian McArthur has carved legendary Quebec strongman Louis Cyr, an accordion-playing Mountie, and an enormous pair of hockey skates.

But the biggest challenge isn’t the countless hours of carving or concocting new subjects.

It’s Mother Nature.

“The weather, you can’t do anything about it. That affects the snow quality,” said McArthur, who was showing a decade’s worth of his ice sculptures at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery on Sunday.

In the world of ice sculpting the chinook is not your friend.

That’s one of the reasons there are few ice sculptors from Alberta, compared with Ontario, Quebec, and even Manitoba, he said.

“In Alberta, with chinooks and everything, it’s really tough here.”

The ideal temperature for sculpting is -10 C.

“Anything above 0 C isn’t great. The condition of the snow deteriorates.”

Of course, the unrelenting -30 C he had to contend with on his first snow sculpting project in Winnipeg 10 years ago was hardly ideal either.

Despite our fickle weather, McArthur hasn’t stopped tackling home-grown projects. His handiwork will be on display at the Silver Skate Festival in Edmonton, which runs Feb. 14-23.

His bird in hand will be carved out of a 2.4-metre square chunk of snow.

In the past decade, McArthur and his team have averaged three snow sculptures a year and he has won a number of competitions, including taking first place two years in a row from 2009 to 2010 at the National Snow Sculpting Competition, held in Gatineau, Que. and Edmonton. They also placed several other years.

Unfortunately, that competition is no longer run but McArthur still undertakes commissioned works as well as the Silver Skate Festival.

The national competitions saw sculptors take their chisels, shovels, wire saws, chain saws, forks and anything else that worked to massive five-metre tall, 40-tonne blocks of snow.

Those projects were undertaken by a team that often has included his wife and fellow artist Dawn Detarando. Other teammates at different times have included Mirror furniture craftsman Michael Decaire, Red Deer’s Pierre Oberg, Edmonton’s Eric Burton and former local resident Will Truchon.

Sculptors were only given 55 hours to turn snow into art.

McArthur said getting started is one of the most stressful parts of the whole process. Standing on the block of snow sculptors have to figure out the best angle for lighting and the audience and to take into account sunlight direction.

“Once you start you’re kind of committed,” he said.

Once the work begins, it’s all about 12-hour days and keeping an eye on the clock.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges is knowing time and control.”

One sculpture by another team — a pair of fiddles — would probably have won a competition but the sculptors ran out of time and it wasn’t quite done.

Over the years, McArthur and his team have come up with a number of amazing sculptures. There have been voyageurs carrying a canoe, a salute to Red Deer-raised architect Douglas Cardinal featuring the city’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization, and a giant pair of hands knitting.

To see examples of his work go to www.voyagertile.ca

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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