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Snow inspires art in Grindelwald

A member of the French team poses in front of its sculpture Keystone

Armed with little more than a few shovels and buckets and lots of snow, an international meeting of sculptors has created a children's wonderland in the resort of Grindelwald.

Childhood dreams is the theme of this year’s snow festival – the 19th time the friendly competition has been held on the outdoor ice rink in the Bernese Oberland resort.

Surrounded by snowy peaks and glaciers, there was plenty to inspire the European and North American artists.

“It’s about a boy’s dream to fly,” exudes Canadian Alison Gorecki about her team’s sculpture. “He’s inspired by a Superman like figure when he’s younger and he figures he can fly like Superman.”

Gorecki shovels some snow away from the sculpture’s base. She’s apprenticing under her father, Swavek Gorecki, at the competition. The elder Gorecki uses a small shaping tool attached to a long handle to refine some of the icy details.

“The snow comes in different consistencies,” he says. “You learn to adapt and to work with the different kinds. We have been given some that’s more compact, which is very easy for carving beautiful detail.”

But some of the snow we’ve had to use has been blown, which has turned it into golf ball size chunks. Whenever you try to create any details, big pieces fall out. That means that you have to rebuild. We’ve learned to adapt though. We make slush to patch up the holes.”

Manuel Franquesa of Spain agrees about the snow quality. “It’s not very good this year. It’s more like cheese than butter,” he says. “Sometimes it’s like cream and you can really work with it. But there are big pieces in the snow this year.”

Franquesa stands on top of a two metre high snowball and delicately carves out the face of a boy looking to the heavens. The work is a three dimensional version of “The Little Prince”. His team has hollowed a room out of the snowball, giving visitors, according to Franquesa, the chance to enter the inner dreams of the storybook character.

“What I love about this type of art is that it’s not forever. It will melt away,” Franquesa says. “It’s a challenge to make something that you know has a limited life. And in this case, it comes to a very quick end!”

Switzerland’s entry is titled “Building blocks in motion”. Unlike the Canadian and Spanish works, it’s an abstract piece of art, but, as can be expected from the Swiss, it’s precision made.

A measuring tape ensures that the proportions of the sculpture perfectly match the dimensions of a small-scale model.

“This is the 19th Snow Festival and we wouldn’t want to do without it. It’s the biggest winter event in Grindelwald,” boasts organiser Hans Schlunegger.

What started out as a Japanese promotion, has grown into one of the world’s best-known snow sculpture competitions, in one of the world’s most spectacular settings.

Heidi was the theme chosen by the Japanese that first year. But since then the participating artists have been challenged by more abstract subjects including, “Reconciling technology with nature”, “Tension and relaxation” and “Optimism”.

After a brief morning appearance, the sun disappears behind the 4,000 metre high peaks that loom over Grindelwald. By the time it casts a cursory, but warm late afternoon glow over the resort, the sculptures have begun to take shape.

“It’s a play of light between the different leaves,” says Dutchman Henk van Bennekum. His team from the Netherlands is sculpting a giant flower. The growth of the flower symbolises the beauty of a growing child.

Curious skiers, just returning from the slopes, stroll across the ice rink to admire the works. A small boy darts in and out of the sculptures’ icy recesses, playing hide and seek with his father.

At the far end of the ice rink, two other boys, these ones made out of snow, reach for the moon.

by Dale Bechtel

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