Below-zero wind chills didn’t stop 40 Walworth Middle School students from making something beautiful out of snow Thursday afternoon.
Armed with shovels, picks, metal shavers and horse combs, groups of about five fifth- through eighth-graders pried and chipped away at several large, rectangular blocks of snow at Flat Iron Park in Lake Geneva.
One group sculpted a water bottle because it was a “recycled idea,” a student said. Another group carved a castle, while another made a large chair.
“It’s always interesting to see what turns out in the end,” said Rachel Roemer, a Walworth Elementary School art teacher. “We had some that said they wanted to make a toilet.”
This is the school's fifth year of participating in the kids' snow-sculpting event, which is hosted by Lake Geneva's Winterfest and the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition.
The students have two hours to carve their blocks, and some professional sculptors provide tools and mingle with the students while they work, giving them advice and suggestions.
Fifteen adult teams from across the country started sculpting Wednesday and will continue through 11 a.m. Saturday, when judging begins. The public is invited to view the snowy creations all weekend.
“For a lot of these kids, this is really outside of their bubble,” Roemer said Thursday. “It’s a really interesting, cool experience.”
Roemer and art teacher Ted Beauchaine, who run the school’s art club, started planning the sculptures with club members after Christmas break.
The teachers met with the first 40 students who signed up one day after school. They divided them into groups and gave each a small block of clay. The students then brainstormed and sculpted small versions of their designs.
“We tried to steer them away from anything that might be too difficult,” Roemer said. “We warned them that these are big, rectangular blocks, and they’re going to have to work them down.”
The students and teachers rehearsed the best course of action at the beginning of the day Thursday. Then for two hours, the students worked on the snow blocks using their clay versions as guides.
“We said, ‘Make sure you’ve got a plan, who’s doing what, and who’s going to be on what side,’” Roemer said.
Besides learning teamwork, students have to use science and math skills. They also need to adapt to the texture of their snow block and change their designs as necessary.
Joe Tominaro, marketing and development director for Visit Lake Geneva, said the experience broadens students’ horizons.
“A kid that’s never been subjected to a violin might be a great violinist,” Tominaro said. "You bring a kid out and get their hands on some art, and who knows? They could become some really fantastic sculptor."
Beauchaine agreed, saying the event is about “seeing something start small, with a model of it in clay, and actually building it and seeing it happen. The snow blocks are as tall as some of these kids are.”
The students have unusual access to a competition that produces world-class art right in their backyard, he said.
“It’s a huge, huge event, but it’s so local as well,” Beauchaine said. “That’s a really cool thing for these kids to see.”
Katie Weeks, event manager for Visit Lake Geneva, said snow sculpting also teaches kids how to be active during the bitter cold of winter.
Fontana Elementary School will participate in the sculpting event Friday, and wind chills are expected to be just as bitter.
In Walworth, some students join the art club just for the sculpting event, Beauchaine said. Roemer said that's fine with her.
“If this gets them excited about art, great,” she said. “We’ll take it. Anything that gets them enthusiastic about this kind of stuff.”
Aside from sculpting snow, the art club meets every Friday for one hour after school. Roemer and Beauchaine open the art room and let students do anything they aren’t able to do during the school day.
“If they’re really interested in doing something on the pottery wheel, we’ll get them on the pottery wheel,” Beauchaine said. “Or if they want to do a larger-scale mosaic, that’s fine. We’re more facilitators helpings kids create what they want to create.”