Themed sculptures once covered all of campus
By Madison Pauly, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 8, 2013
Imagine the Dean of the College in a horse-drawn wagon riding down Webster Avenue, judging ice figures constructed on each fraternity house’s front lawn. While fraternities and dormitories no longer sculpt for bragging rights, the traditional snow sculpture on the Green has endured since it was first built in 1925.
This year’s Red Riding Hood and the Wolf stand 16 and 24 feet tall, respectively. Built with 140 cubic feet of snow that was shoveled, stomped and carved for five weeks before construction, the sculptures will be unveiled today at the Winter Carnival opening ceremonies, according to committee co-chair Mandy Bowers ’14.
Although students once competed to design the winning proposal, the student-run snow sculpture committee now controls the creative process, according to Will Baird ’15, who proposed and oversaw this year’s design.
The sculpture will be built despite the lack of snow, Baird said.
“I had to scale the sculpture down a little bit, but it will still happen,” he said. “We’re pulling an all-nighter [Wednesday], and it’ll be finished when everyone wakes up on Thursday.”
The 200th anniversary of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales in December and a glut of dark fantasy stories in the media led the committee to choose “A Very Grimm Winter” as the 2013 theme. For the sculpture, the committee considered Rapunzel’s tower but decided it was too similar to past designs, Bowers said.
“We wanted something that had a little more of an edge to it,” Bowers said.
The larger and more ornate sculptures of past decades required about 2,000 hours from workers who resembled “a group of Egyptian slaves toiling on a pyramid,” according to a 1960 feature in New Hampshire Profiles magazine.
Though the sculpture’s construction is now a smaller undertaking, it is still demanding work.
Volunteers begin by assembling a wooden frame and packing it full of snow, Baird said. After dousing the pile with water, they stomp on the packed snow until it transforms into solid ice, he said.
The group then works long hours to whittle down the ice block into its final form, using chain saws, carving tools and a mix of frozen slush, Baird said.
Work begins early in the term. Varsity athletic teams, a physical education class and a number of student volunteers join the committee over the course of five weeks to complete the sculpture by the Thursday night deadline, Baird said.
Since artificial snow is cost-prohibitive, this year’s sculpture consists of athletic field snow and ice rink shavings trucked to the Green by the Facilities Operations and Management staff, Bowers said.
Over the years, it has often been unclear whether there would be enough snow to finish the sculpture.
The Boston Evening Globe reported in 1956 that students constructed the sculpture out of ice chips from Occom Pond.
In other years, students have conceived more radical solutions, including an orange juice sculpture by Sigma Nu fraternity, according to a 1950 Claremont Eagle report.
In 1985, building materials were limited, so the committee used snow from parking lots to complete their “Diamond in the Rough,” John Marchiony ’86 said. When a bucket loader arrived after Carnival to demolish it, the dirty snow at the sculpture’s base cracked and sent the icy diamond rolling across the Green.
Thirty years earlier, a demolition crew faced the opposite challenge when three sticks of dynamite failed to dislodge “Nanook” from atop the crest of a giant ice whale, the Claremont Daily Eagle reported.
“Nanook” is one of many Native American-themed sculpture designs that would be considered controversial today. Over the sculpture’s 88-year history, the campus has seen a variety of designs, including the 1958 “Sputnik Watcher,” a giant dragon breathing butane flames across the Green in 1969 and the 1992 Grinch on a keg.
Students in the past used plywood and chicken wire to support the sculpture internally, but concerns about safety and demolition led to new building material restrictions, Baird said.
Since the collapse of the 2009 ice replication of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, new rules state that the sculpture must be smaller, solid from the ground up and able to stand without internal supports, Bowers said. Feats like the 40-ton, 37 foot tall, 1937 sculpture of Eleazar Wheelock holding a rum tankard will remain a Dartmouth memory.
The snow sculpture committee has routinely faced the challenges of recruitment, snowfall and demolition.
Marchiony, who chaired the build in his junior and senior years, recounted how he and a small group of friends worked all night for three nights in the week leading up to the 1985 Carnival, pulling down the scaffolding just in time for their 7 p.m. deadline on Thursday.
The next year, they got it right, he said. Spiked hot chocolate, loud music and Hanover Hot Tub raffle prizes drew students onto the Green in droves, and the team completed the “Where the Wild Things Are” sculpture with hours to spare.
“Some of my best friends in the world — people I’ve known for 25 years — are people I met on the sculpture.” Marchiony said. “I thought they were authentic, genuine people who did wholesome things.”