Potamkin: ‘Queen of Wintersculpt’ | AspenTimes.com

Potamkin: ‘Queen of Wintersculpt’

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In the heart of the winter season, just after the hectic holidays but before the masses descend for the X Games, mysterious cold, white cubes seem to appear overnight on the malls in Aspen.

In the next 48 hours, the cubes will be transformed into sculptures ” some interactive ” that dot the malls, making eyes widen and children scramble with arms outstretched.

In the middle of all this is Claudia Potamkin.

As the “instigator, conceiver and sponsor” of the the Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s annual Wintersculpt competition, Potamkin is delighted that this year has again attracted a crowd with shovels, pickaxes and even chain saws to create snowy masterpieces.

“I’ve always loved the whole idea of Wintersköl,” she said Thursday, while a chain saw buzzed behind her. “It’s not Christmas. It’s really cold and really boring with nothing going on, so let’s party!”

Potamkin and her husband, Alan, are residents of Coral Gables, Fla., and also own a home in Aspen. She said she discovered the Anderson Ranch Arts Center years ago and instantly fell in love with it and wanted to help out.

Although she says she’s dabbled with visual arts in the past, she’s never taken any art classes. However, she was impressed with the ranch’s welcoming environment when she first visited the center.

“They’re world-class artists out there ” painters, sculptors, photographers, everything ” and they offer beginner classes,” she said. “It’s one of the only arts centers that’s not intimidating and is so open-armed to novices.”

So Potamkin joined what was jokingly called the “Non-bored,” a board full of volunteers who brainstorm new ideas for the center. Potamkin’s offering became Wintersculpt.

The beauty behind it, she says, is when people who have never experimented with art decide to participate and learn about their creative sides.

The ranch gets applications each year from all over, but the board prefers offering Roaring Fork Valley residents a chance to showcase their talents. And over the years, Potamkin remembers sculptures that were moving, outrageous ” and even unsuccessful.

Several years ago a team constructed an incredibly realistic-looking hand holding a world in its palm. At about 4 a.m., right before the judging began, the sculpture crumbled. It was heartbreaking for the group, but Potamkin says she’ll always remember the hand that “seemed to have blood pumping through its veins.”

Potamkin regularly watches sculptors work their magic in the wee hours of the morning, cheering them on when the going gets tough. She said it’s fun for her to see the sculptors interacting with the late-night-bar crowd, and says she’s heard some pretty amusing conversations.

Although the early years of Wintersculpt were sort of fly-by-night, with the city of Aspen wondering if the event would last, Potamkin has developed it over the years into one of the centerpieces of the Wintersköl celebration. The city’s Parks Department has continued to be a big help in collecting and piling up snow for the event, she said.

“I think now we know that Wintersculpt is here for the long haul,” she said. “It’s one of those things that really brings Wintersköl into Aspen, and makes it more festive.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]