Snow dreams take form at Lake Geneva Winterfest

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, February 1, 2015

LAKE GENEVA—Nobody knows how long it could be until Chauncey the giant, albino praying mantis melts away.

But for now, he's probably the world's largest insect sculpted of compressed snow.

Chauncey looms 10 feet tall at the Lake Geneva Riviera courtyard, his front legs holding a large snow-sculpted leaf up and out of the way as three smaller, snow-sculpted leafcutter ants pass harmlessly beneath him.

It took Chancey's creators—Omaha, Nebraska residents Matt Seeley, Taylor Seeley and Katie Bounds—almost a half a week to carve and sculpt him from an 8-foot-wide, 9-foot tall column of pressed snow.

Though Chauncey represents the mantis—the tiger of the insect world—biologist and entomologist-turned snow sculptor Matt Seeley says the big bug comes in peace: He was sculpted frozen in a tender moment, helping out his fellow bug-man. That's the sculpture's theme, anyway—kindness.

“Looking at all that goes on in the world today, fighting, war, partisanship and political brinkmanship, there's a bigger message people need to see. We need to help each other. We need to get along,” Seeley said.

The benevolent white mantis, titled “Mantis Magic,” is one of 15 ornate snow sculptures artists sculpted for the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition, part of Lake Geneva Winterfest. It and other sculptures are on display now at the Riviera. 

Other sculptures include “Death of Samson,” by Illinois sculptors Sven, Thor and Bjorn Skupien. The sculpture features a giant snow-Samson toppling lethal snow pillars with his powerful arms.

And there's “Arbor Armor,” a pair of snow-trees with complexly interwoven branches. The sculpture, by Wisconsin sculptors Dave Andrews, Stephen Bateman and Jason Anhorn, was voted Saturday as the winner of the 2015 national snow sculpting competition.

The U.S. snow-sculpting finals is the major draw of Winterfest, which this year marks its 20th year. Mild weather Saturday brought hundreds of people to the Riviera. People walked leashed dogs and snapped selfies with their children next to the big sculptures, which will stay on display through the festival, which runs until Feb. 7—or until they melt away.

“Mantis Magic” sculptor Katie Bounds said the mild weather this week made for OK snow-sculpting to create Chauncey. Her team sculpted the mantis' long legs and stuck them to its body using wet, slushy snow to form them together like a gluey, papier mâché of snow. Then they sanded and sawed in the details of his segmented, insect body.

She said the 36-degree air Saturday was just cold enough to keep Chauncey's details, such as his 2-foot-tall snow-spire antennae, from melting and falling apart on the spot.

Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau President Darien Schaefer said festival coordinators were planning ahead for predicted snowfall this week.

“Warm, plus snow makes trouble. We know that. It makes snow collect on the sculptures and obscures their beautiful details.”

The festival plans to keep wet snow from ruining the sculptures. The solution could be simple, Schaefer said.

“We're thinking of getting one of those leaf blowers, maybe.”

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