George Roberts calls certain collections of poems he prints “Winter Papers,” because winter is the only time he can make them.
“I’ve always loved winter,” said the retired Minneapolis literature teacher, gallery owner, poet and book artist. “It’s a much more reflective, thoughtful time. When I wake up on a winter day and find frost has formed on the windows, I find it very calming ”
Winter is more than just a source of inspiration for Roberts, Duluth snow sculptor Harry Welty and Minneapolis ice artist Kurt Kelsey. They use the raw materials of winter — ice, snow and even the cold itself — to make their art.
George Roberts, printmaker
Roberts, who owns Homewood Studios in north Minneapolis, creates paper in stunning colors marked by crystal patterns formed when he puts the wet prints outside in the freezing cold. When the colors and patterns suggest or link themselves to a poem, he sets the type by hand and prints the poem.
Last week, he left prints outside in snow, and found that the flurries added sharp, circular patterns in the crystallized ink.
“This is what [winter] gives me, and what I’m willing to take,” he said.
Each picture poem becomes one of only 20 in a “Winter Paper” series he produces each season. In a good winter, he might do three series.
“It connects me with the season,” he said.
• Soak paper in water, drop ink on it, and let the ink diffuse.
• Put the paper outside when the temperature is below 15 degrees. The cold allows the pigments to form crystal patterns as they freeze.
• Print a poem inspired by winter on the page.
Harry Welty, snow sculptor
This was Welty’s 25th year shaping a larger-than-life snow sculpture on his front lawn in Duluth. At the busy corner of E. 4th Street and 21st Avenue, Welty’s sculptures are regular traffic-stoppers.
“You put enough snow together and people will always stop and look at it,” Welty said.
The former teacher and school board member started making snow sculptures in 1987, when his daughter requested a dinosaur. Over the years, he’s done Mt. Rushmore, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, an 11-foot-tall gorilla, a cheesehead (to commemorate a Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl win), and former President Bill Clinton playing the saxophone.
This year, with an early snow, he fashioned a tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, with an angel wrapping its wings around two children. The sculpture was modeled after a photo of two young survivors he’d seen in newspapers. At night, he lights a candle in the sculpted children’s hands.
Shortly after he built it, someone left 26 roses at the foot of the sculpture, one for each of the shooting victims.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a snow sculpture my heart was in more than this,” he said. “Of all the things I’ve made, this is the one people can say is appropriate to the time, and represents how a lot of people feel. It’s been very gratifying, and it’s allowed me to do something probably a lot of people wish they could do: Let the world know we’re fortunate to have people who are our guardians, and to thank God for our own children and their safety.”
• Make a clay model to work from.
• Pile as much snow as you can scoop from your property (and maybe even some from your neighbors) in your front yard.
• If it’s cold and powdery snow, dump some water on it and let it sit overnight to make it “sticky.”
• Do the major shaping with shovels of various sizes. Use serving spoons and a curved carpet knife for the fine work.
• In late winter, when the weather starts to warm, knock the sculpture down and spread the snow out to help it melt.
“I like the idea of spring as much as anybody,” Welty said.
Kurt Kelsey, ice pane maker
Inspired by the ice candles at the annual City of Lakes Loppet, Kurt Kelsey has carried the torch back to his yard in south Minneapolis.
Using items from around the house and yard, Kelsey fashions water and weeds into glass-like showpieces that come into their own when backlit at night. He’s made the ice panes with his kids and their friends, and has found that they’ve become conversation-starters.
“It adds a friendlier feel to life on the tundra,” Kelsey said.
But as a skier and ski coach, he isn’t critical of the season.
“I enjoy the winter,” he added. “And once you start enjoying it, it’s way too short. I’m very conflicted about spring.”
• Fill plastic forms (such as lunch trays, sleds, storage bin lids or trash bags laid on concrete and sealed) with water.
• Add stems, grasses, leaves or other materials, such as paper, to make a design.
• Mount the panels in the snow and back-light them with candles.