Glenwood snow sculptor finds plenty of material for his inspirations
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The tools: snow shovel, hand saw, garden hose, old plastic adjustable lawn chair (not for sitting), sometimes a broomstick.
The ingredients: snow, snow, snow, a few icicles, some creative vision, more snow.
The result: snow sculptures that delight Grand Avenue visitors.
Patrick Tanner has a knack for transforming a big pile of snow into something quite special.
Currently, Tanner’s front-yard creation at 1224 Grand Ave. is a motorcycle and rider with an accompanying photographer.
But this isn’t just a random scene.
This is a snapshot of Tanner’s past. This is Evel Knievel and a photographer named Don English at arguably the most famous motorcycle jump in history ” Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace in 1967. Knievel jumped, English snapped photos, the crowd gasped, Knievel crashed head-first over the handlebars, the crowd gasped.
“I was there,” Tanner says, his voice rising with excitement. “I was 10 years old, 1967 at Caesars Palace, my dad took me and my brothers. This really takes me back to my childhood.”
The 50-year-old Las Vegas native is a landscaper by trade and dabbles in art. A little marble and wood carving and lots of drawings. And, of course, snow sculpting in the winter.
“I’ve been messing around with art my whole life.”
Snow sculpting started innocently enough for Tanner.
“I kind of did this on a whim a few years ago. I was going to make an igloo but that was boring. So I went inside and looked at my drawings.”
The resulting sculpture was a mother holding her baby.
Tanner laughs then pauses. “I really had no idea I could make something out of snow.”
He’s an amateur artist in every sense of the word.
“It’s not about pay. Once a dollar bill is hanging out of an artist’s pocket it changes his creativity,” he says, bluntly.
His salary comes in the form of the satisfied faces and admiring smiles that he gets when people see his work.
In the winter of 2004, Tanner sculpted a massive replica of the Statue of Liberty. People gathered along the sidewalk as he put the finishing touches on his version of the American landmark. He used huge icicles for the crown, and as he twisted the final icicle in place the crowd roared.
“That was pretty special, people were just screaming ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’,” Tanner says with a laugh. “To make people smile, that’s why I do this. It’s a good, cool thing.”
For the Knievel-English work, he says he did it because Knievel was a gladiator, and English was a classy guy.
Another reason for the work was that his mom, Peggy, knows English’s daughter.
For some sculptures, Tanner uses his own drawings as a model. For the motorcycle jump creation he actually had a photo that English took. Tanner also did a little research and discovered that English always wore a baseball cap backward when he was shooting photos. He captured that trait in his sculpture.
“He did that back before it was the cool thing to do,” Tanner says about the backward cap.
It usually takes about a week for Tanner to complete a sculpture. First he shovels and pushes snow into a big pile. Then he takes the lawn chair, one that clicks into place, and he clamps it onto the snow (sometimes with a broom handle to hold it in place). The chair helps pack the snow and he moves it from spot to spot. After the snow sets for 3-4 days, it’s time to be an artist.
Using a handsaw it takes about three days to whittle and carve the snow into a sculpture. He usually carves away as much as half of the snow in the process.
Nearby he has an “icicle nursery” that he keeps adding to for those times when he needs that perfect icicle.
The lens on English’s camera and parts of the motorcycle are icicles.
Tanner says he will add water to keep the sculpture from melting. Thanks to the frigid January, his current creation has weathered quite well.
“I’m surprised at how long it’s lasted,” he says.
But when an artist uses snow there’s a doomed inevitability that comes with his art.
And Tanner is OK with that.
He compares his work and knowing that it will eventually vanish, to the work of Tibetan monks.
“They use sand, all kinds of colors of sand to make sundial patters. All that beautiful artwork blows away with the wind,” he says.
He does take lots of photos, so he has something to remember long after his works go from art back to a pile of snow.
He says that neither of his parents are artistic, but he gives credit to his dad’s creativity for providing him with some important lessons.
“My dad could fix anything, he was a really creative guy, always building things. I learned how to tinker on things from him,” he says.
It’s his dad, Mike, who might be the inspiration for his next work.
His dad had a 1929 Model A that he remembers seeing in old family movies. Tanner says he remembers seeing the car with an old pair of wooden skis strapped on the back.
“I might make that for my dad, that would be pretty cool,” he says.
For now and maybe a few more weeks, his Caesars Palace re-creation will be the art to behold.
But Mother Nature will soon melt Tanner’s Knievel-English creation into a blob of snow.
But that’s OK, Mother Nature was what made the sculpture possible to begin with.
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