Carve It Up! Every winter, local snow sculptors haul in the awards

every winter, local snow sculptors haul in a bunch of awards for their chilly work

Mike Seitz, photos by Caitlyn Berlin

STARVIN’ FOR SOMETHING TO CARVE. The Starvin’ Carvists whittle down huge snow chunks into winter art.
STARVIN’ FOR SOMETHING TO CARVE. The Starvin’ Carvists whittle down huge snow chunks into winter art.

Steve Bateman and Jason Anhorn are a couple of local artists who have a wide range of abilities: graphic designing, airbrushing, and making murals are just a few. However, these guys have something up their sleeves that most people can’t boast: snow sculpting.

No, not ice sculpting. Snow sculpting.

In fact, Bateman and Anhorn aren’t just good; they’re a couple of the best snow sculptors in the Midwest. Along with Wauwatosa artist David Andrews, the Starvin’ Carvists (the duo’s punny name) have been awarded first place in the National Snow Sculpting Competition for the past three years and have competed in several international competitions.

Bateman got his first taste for snow sculpting while attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which started with him rolling a giant snowball in one of the courtyards, as he described it. Eventually, a friend who took part in a professional snow sculpting competition had an opening on his team and invited Bateman to join. After taking part in several competitions, Bateman got Anhorn involved. They’ve been creating works of art with a substance most people hate ever since.

Before the carving can start, the Starvin’ Carvists need a block of snow. A wooden form is filled with snow and packed down until there’s a solid chunk of snow to carve. After taking the form off, they’ll use a model or illustration of what they intend to make as a reference point and start carving. This is usually done with their larger tools as they work their way toward the finer details with smaller tools. Sometimes the model will be taller or wider than the block. When that’s the case, the excess that was taken off is used to expand the sculpture and include those details.

Image: Caitlyn Berlin
Image: Caitlyn Berlin

The amount of time it takes to carve varies depending on the size of the block. The blocks in Boyd Park, where they’ve carved sculptures for Winter After Hours, are four-by-eight feet, which take them a day and a half to finish. Competition blocks, however, can be as tall as ten feet and usually require three or four days  of work to complete.

Tools are a necessity, and there is quite an array of items that can be used to craft snow sculptures. Bateman and Anhorn have several tools they made themselves, such as an eleven foot saw that Bateman made using a piece of aluminum sheeting. Tools such as ice chisels are something you’d expect, but sometimes they’ll use items such as a metal chain or a joist hanger. It also requires a lot of hard work, which isn’t a problem for these two ever since snow sculpting became a serious passion for them.

“I think people appreciate it,” Bateman told me. “I enjoy when we’re chipping away at a big old block of snow and you start to see your vision come into focus.” Bateman went on to explain how working your way down to the finer details of the piece, the ones that make the sculpture come to life, makes it really fun and the effort worthwhile. Not only do these guys get to do something they love, but their work is always out in the open for folks to see.

Currently, the Carvists are gearing up to compete at the state competition in downtown Racine during The Big Chill Racine Ice and Snow Festival in early January. Bateman also told me that they will be competing once more in the U.S. national competition at Lake Geneva in February.

They wouldn’t give me any details about what they’ll be carving,  so we’ll have to wait and see what’s in store. Knowing their previous work, it will be something amazing. If you see them at work, just remember that they aren’t starving artists; they’re the Starvin’ Carvists.