Rome built in month: Phi Kappa Tau wins sculpture competition with snowy Rome
HOUGHTON — Phi Kappa Tau is back on top.
The Michigan Technological University fraternity won first place in the Winter Carnival month-long statue competition with its ode to ancient Rome: “Behold For Your Eyes to See the Glory of Roman Technology.”
“A lot of the members put in just tons of hours,” said Alex Oliver of Phi Kappa Tau. “It feels good — not just to win, but to sit back in the morning and feel really proud of what we’ve made.”
Second place went to last year’s winner, Tau Kappa Epsilon, for its tribute to farming: “In Frigid Fields Carved from Snow, A Nation’s Progress Has Yet to Slow.”
Delta Sigma Phi’s “Paradigm Shifts in these Snow Drifts” finished in third place.
Phi Kappa Tau’s unconventional pick was born out of necessity. The group drew 17th for the order.
“We had a pretty late draw, so we felt we had to think outside the box and find something no one else would pick,” Oliver said.
Phi Kappa Tau has now captured the top spot in 10 of the past 12 years, interrupted only by Tau Kappa Epsilon wins in 2015 and 2018. The last group other than those two to win the top prize was Delta Sigma Phi in 2007.
First place in the women’s division was Alpha Sigma Tau with “Ford Frozen in Time,” which finished fourth overall.
Groups were out until the early hours of the morning applying the final details to their statues, along with all-nighter groups who had to cram their statue making into less than a day.
In keeping with this year’s theme, “Years of Innovation STEM from this Snowy Situation,” groups highlighted technological leaps.
Wednesday night, eventual fourth-place finisher Guardians of the North was putting the finishing touches on its “Tech Express.” A steam engine pulled a jeep on a train car, then the Apollo lunar command module.
Slush is important to fill in the cracks and crevices. For flatwork, they turn to irons.
“We want to make sure all of our corners are nice and sharp and straight, making sure we’ve got all the letters up, and make everything clean, white, shiny and flat,” said Guardians member Jared Thiele. He’d spent almost 100 hours over the past month working on the statue — and planned to continue until judges arrived in the morning.
“I’m going to take a break at 6 o’clock to get break at the Suomi, and be right back to sweep her off for the judges,” Thiele said.
Some groups also used the history of technical innovation to make other points. The Delta Phi Epsilon sorority shone a light on Nobel Prize-winning developments — light bulbs or the discovery of the DNA double helix — where female or minority inventors were not given recognition.
“This is a STEM-themed winter carnival this year, and a lot of the time men tend to get all of the recognition for all of the inventions that you see all around on all the statues, and we figured that we should pay tribute to people that are similar to us, trying to pave the way,” she said.
Statue builders had to make up for lost time, as low wind chills last week forced construction to come to a halt for multiple days. But groups said it wasn’t much of a setback.
“It definitely put us back a few days, so we had to add a few extra shifts in there, and we were able to pull it together, and we just worked worked more efficiently the last week to get it done,” said Monica Newton of Delta Zeta, which built its statue with Delta Upsilon.
The group began designing the statue before Thanksgiving, she said.
Temperatures were warmer than the near-zero nights of recent years. Even so, there were long lines for food, whether deep-fried Twinkies or free chili. The Arnold Air Society continued its tradition of giving away grilled cheese sandwiches. They’ll make anywhere from 300 to 400 during an all-nighter, said member Noah Hart.
“It’s usually a pretty high-demand thing,” he said. “We’ve never lasted the entire night, even though we’re set up to do that. We always run out of grilled cheese before we run out of patrons.”