Forget Frosty. Three brothers from New Brighton have moved way beyond snowmen.
For seven winters, the Bartz brothers (Austin, Trevor and Connor) have sculpted a mega-sized sea creature out of the white stuff on their front lawn. The attraction, which lasts as long as freezing temperatures, draws gawkers from all over the Twin Cities, and raises money for clean water around the world. Last year, the brothers collected more than $26,000 for charity from fans of their handicraft.
This week, the Bartzes welcomed their latest ocean dweller to landlocked Minnesota: a 19-foot-tall lobster. The newest addition to their icy menagerie is now on display in front of their home, 2777 NW. 16th St., New Brighton. And after this past weekend’s miraculous Vikings win, it’s no surprise that people voted to name it Diggs (after Stefon) on the brothers’ Facebook poll.
The cold-weather crustacean joins a walrus, shark, turtle and octopus in the brothers’ repertoire. But it all began with a pufferfish.
The family was fishing in Florida when Austin caught one of the big-cheeked swimmers. Back home, on the next snow day, he and his brothers attempted to re-create it. It went surprisingly well.
“None of us are very artistic,” Austin explained. “We can’t draw to save our lives.”
And yet, there they were, with a spiky snowball as tall as they were on the front lawn, the fish’s big round lips permanently open in a state of shock.
“A lot of neighbors were driving by,” Austin said. “Everybody loved it so much, we just kept going.”
As the designs got more elaborate each year, people came from beyond the neighborhood. Now, opening nights draw about a thousand people.
Their most elaborate sculpture was an octopus in 2016. They ran out of room on the lawn, so they built one tentacle as an arch over the front steps.
“It’s probably good our front lawn isn’t any bigger, because then we’d make it too big and never complete it,” Austin said.
It typically takes them 2½ weeks to craft their monumental feat. But this year, a snow drought gave them only five days to put their lobster together.
They haul in some of the snow themselves; the rest comes from the city’s plows after a storm.
They drag the snow on sleds into their garage — heated to 90 degrees, where one person churns the icy pack into a pliable fluff good for sculpting. Once that goop gets added to the mound outside, it freezes on hard, making for a sturdy sculpture.
The brothers mock up a few drawings to start, but they mainly eyeball the design from the street, editing as they go.
They’re getting better at it each year. Now, they use wooden boards to make molds for the ice and later cut them away. That’s how they managed such fine detail on the lobster, which has a tail, scales on its back, and 8-foot-tall claws.
Austin, 23, runs a landscaping business and is starting a construction company. Fame from the snow sculptures is helping him get work. “It’s a good thing to put on a résumé,” he said.
Trevor, 22, and Connor, 19, are both in college.
The trio always got along as children. They loved to play outside, and in the wintertime, they’d build snow forts together. Now that teamwork is coming in handy.
Their names have been floated to make snow sculptures around town, Austin said, including for the St. Paul Winter Carnival and even the Super Bowl. But so far, they haven’t left the comfort of their front lawn.
“It’s a big commitment,” Austin said. “We can only do so much.”
And it’s a whole family affair. Their dad directs traffic as people drive past to see the sculpture. Their mom prepares meals to keep them from starving as they work around the clock in sometimes subzero temperatures (and the colder the better for sculpting, Austin says).
The Bartzes hope the weather stays cool enough to keep the lobster up for a month, or at the very least, through the Super Bowl. “We’re going to try our best to keep it looking good,” Austin said.
Sea monsters need clean water
They don’t have a plan yet for what animal next year will bring. All they know is that it’ll come from the sea.
“We like doing sea creatures because they live in the water, and our snow sculptures are water,” Austin explained.
Hence their fundraiser for clean water, which is administered by a charity called One Day’s Wages. People can donate online (https://give.onedayswages.org/bartzbrothers) or they can leave cash in a donation box on-site. About half of the money they raised last year came in small bills from visitors to the sculpture.
“It shows that just one dollar can go a long way,” Austin said.
Their success sometimes baffles them.
“Seven years ago I would have thought it was a joke that we were doing this,” Austin said. “Our teachers in middle school knew we were terrible at drawing and art. But we found a new form of art that we could work with.”