Snow sculptures remain after Winter Carnival

By now the Winter Carnival statues in Houghton and Hancock are starting to get a little long in the tooth. Snow that has fallen has softened the edges of London’s famous double-decker buses, blunted the crests of Hawaiian waves, and otherwise rendered the variations on the theme of vacation destinations less clear. In short, the statues of Winter Carnival 2015, which by and large strove to be representational, have become less so.

But the fading of the carnival statues hardly marks the end of wintertime sculpture in the Keweenaw Peninsula. What remains is more modernist, more natural, and not to be found in town. And it is hardly representational. These snow sculptures are the work of wind, the work of elements. And their analogs are found in modern sculpture. Monochromatic, their appreciation requires some degree of respect for minimalism on the part of the beholder.

Agnes Martin, an artist who was often associated with the Minimalists, painted a canvas called “Untitled 12” in 1977. A painting, not a sculpture, but it engenders the proper mindset for embracing natural snow sculpture. It is a square canvas, coated with a translucent layer of white gesso, graphite lines cutting across the surface, breaking it into a grid of identical vertical rectangles. That is all there is. A quiet, an austere painting something like a vacant snowfield.

The forms snow takes in the woods calls to mind sculptors like Hans Arp. Especially Hans Arp. He rendered his 1935 sculpture, “Human Concretion” in plaster. Bright white plaster. Its smooth, rounded, and amorphous surfaces cast diffuse shadows. These kinds of shapes form after heavy snows, on the boughs of cedar trees and on the tops of tree stumps. Bent-over saplings even catch enough snow to form these kinds of shapes.

Another modern sculptor whose work resonates with the shapes of heavy winter snowfall is Henri Moore. His “Recumbent Figure” from 1938 is an example. He carved it into a stone called “Green Hornton” stone, which is not white. But the sculpture’s shapes certainly bring to mind shapes of heavy snow.

The coldest days of the last few weeks have created shapes that resonate with architecture. Wind-scoured snowbanks on the outskirts of town have both smooth, flowing curves and sharp edges. Curves and creases evoking Eero Saarinen’s Trans World Airlines terminal at New York’s JFK airport.

These wind-cut snowbanks are bright white. On sunny days, though, days like this past Sunday, they cast sharp shadows. Especially when the sun is low on the eastern horizon, the shadows make the landscape dynamic.

Among the Alexander Calder sculptures I am most familiar with is “La Grande Vitesse” (1969) in Grand Rapids. It is red-orange in color, not white. But it aptly demonstrates the dynamic quality of light and shadow found also in the wind-sculpted snowbank. “La Grande Vitesse” is one of Calder’s “stabiles.” The observer’s walking around the sculpture is the movement that animates it. Sunlight striking each curved surface casts a shadow on the next shaped steel plane. New shapes result, changing by time of day. And on the cold and sunny days of recent days, the sculpted snowbanks cast shapes on shapes in just this way. It is something to look for when you are outdoors in the Keweenaw winter.