It’s 2 a.m. on a chilly February night. You have two papers to write and sleep to catch up on. So where are you? Well, if you’re a member of the Albion Snow Carvers League, you’re probably outside transforming a massive block of snow into a work of art.
The league, now about 15 members strong, is the brain-child of experienced snow carver Brandon Markle, Bay City senior, who says he came to Albion with the intent to start a snow sculpting group.
“I heard Albion encouraged students to create new groups, so that motivated me to come here,” Markle said.
Once on campus, Markle immediately got the grounds crew to help him move snow and was eventually approved for pet project funding to purchase a snow maker. Then it was only a matter of recruiting.
“I had a class with Brandon freshman year,” stated Nora Josaitis, Boca Raton, Fla. “I remember thinking he was an interesting person and saw that he was attempting to start the club. I like snow, and it sounded like fun.”
Brandon and his fellow sculptors like to demonstrate for their fellow students just how big art can be. And it is big. The standard snow block the sculptors start with measures ten feet high and six feet across.
“What we do on campus is show that artists can work on something that doesn’t sit in front of you on a desk or that you can carry around with you,” Markle said. “It’s monumental.”
Markle also thinks the art’s public nature is something special for a college campus.
“People can come and watch art being made rather than just seeing the finished product, and I think that’s important,” Markle said.
Besides chiseling out the occasional block of snow on campus, group members also travel to Frankenmuth every year for the annual snow carving competition. For some members, like Josaitis, the competition is their only chance to do serious sculpting.
“It’s hard to make good blocks of snow on campus, but in Frankenmuth they are ten feet tall and solid,” Joasaitis said.
Markle says that despite their demanding nature, the competition always makes people want to sculpt on campus.
“Everyone who has ever stuck with it looks forward to it every year,” Markle said. “That’s why I started this group. I got the itch.”
The last sculpting venture completed on campus was a Ganesh figure, which Markle and two inexperienced friends, Thor Person and Samarth Bhandari, carved behind Bobbitt.
Bhandari, Battle Creek senior, said that the five-day project was a learning experience unlike any other. He says that he now has a new respect for snow as a medium of art.
“Working with snow is a different medium to work with,” Bhandari said. “The consistency and texture varies with the temperature, so you can’t really work on it during the day—it has to be super cold. You can also use snow as both an adhesive and a patch.”
Though the league hopes to expand its membership, Markle’s imminent graduation has some members worried. Not only is the most experienced carver, but his established network of contacts has been vital for those students going to the Frankenmuth carving competition.
“We will have to find someone who is as passionate as Brandon after he graduates,” Josaitis said. “I want to see the club live on.”
Markle, however, is resolved to keep the club alive even after his graduation.
“I’m a little worried, but I plan on coming back every fall semester to try to get some people involved,” Markle said. “Since we’ve devoted so much time and rescores, it’d be a shame to see the group die.”
Markle says that anyone interested in an outdoor activity that’s mentally and physically demanding, but a lot of fun, should come out and try snow sculpting. Person encourages new members with a slightly different incentive.
“Having a bunch of people drunk off Dark Horse beer swinging axes around behind Bobbitt at three in the morning is kind of a fun experience, so the more the merrier,” Person said.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Markle