A lot of scary things come out of the deep, polar vortex of a Minnesota winter. Zug Zug, a cave man encased in a block of "ice," popped up at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Now his long-lost companion, Zarah, is out there awaiting discovery.
The two mysterious cave people didn't emerge from the black lagoon or Frankenstein's laboratory. Minneapolis ad agency Hunt Adkins commissioned Minneapolis-based artist Zach Schumack and his art collective, Leonic, to build Zug Zug as the centerpiece for an advertising industry show last February.
Once the gig was up, the cave man sat alone in Schumack's garage. It felt like a sad ending until he envisioned a different future for Zug Zug.
For the past couple of years, he worked with Danish artist Thomas Danbo on a huge troll made of recycled wood and placed on a hiking trail in Colorado. The Breckenridge Troll started getting upward of 5,000 visitors per day. The troll was taken down after a city official twisted his ankle while visiting it, but a huge backlash brought it back.
"That's when I realized the power art could have," said Schumack. "That's when I thought it would be great to put Zug Zug in Minnesota somewhere in the woods, because it looks like it came from there."
Schumack, 34, who ran a construction company until he realized he wanted to build festival sites and large-scale art installations, had 10 days before traveling to Aspen, Colo., to work on the X Games, which starts next week. It was now or never.
After receiving permission from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, he and the Leonic crew brought Zug Zug to his new home, encased in what looks like a massive block of ice but is really a mix of plexiglass and epoxy.
"To see this reaction, it really warms my heart," he said. "It's a piece we could've potentially thrown away."
Zug Zug has become a viral sensation, but his long-lost companion Zarah, the mother huntress — described by Leonic collective member Ian Malloy-Busse as "a strong independent woman viewed through the lens of ice" — is still in hiding.
Schumack offered a single clue: She is somewhere in Minnesota, but not in the same park, and not in Minneapolis.
After someone finds her, Schumack and Leonic are planning to release a children's storybook about Zug Zug and Zarah's epic romance.
"All I want people to do is go into the parks, get away from TV screens, get in nature," he said. "Who knows? Maybe you will come around a bend somewhere and you'll find Zarah, the mother huntress. Take a pic, tag me, call the news. I really don't care about the notoriety or the credit. I just want to continue creating things that have a positive impact for the community."
Schumack felt called to give back to the community after the pandemic started and George Floyd was killed. After being on the road for almost three years, he came back to the Twin Cities and started volunteering, handing out food, baby supplies and other necessities to people who'd lost their resources.
"The positive impact felt really special," he said. "I've gotten a lot of the same positive feeling with Zug Zug. Every time I go to check on it or touch up, there's always families who bring kids. You can see the wonder and amazement in their eyes and faces."
While Zug Zug was a commissioned piece, the collective spent its own time and resources making Zarah. As Schumack worked until 3 or 4 a.m. many nights, he thought of his mom, Rachel Lundstrom, who raised him alone until she died of breast cancer when he was just 8.
"It was motivation for me, that added element of care," he said. "Once we decided what Zarah's story would be, it rang a bell so much for my mother. What a better way to describe her as a strong independent woman."