On the last weekend of January, my city celebrates winter with an Ice Festival, and as part of that celebration, small ice sculptures crop up around town. This year right before the festival weekend, an arctic front showed up carrying a couple of bags of windchill and settled in for a week like our town was an Airbnb.
I wasn’t bothered that Mr. Arctic Front crashed the festival because I never attend the outdoor tribute to winter. It’s not because I don’t like snow and cold, but I embrace it differently. I honor winter by reading, writing, walking my dogs, feeding the birds, baking, and marching briskly from my car to whatever building I’m entering. But on Saturday night, I enjoyed the festival’s closing fireworks, watching them from my kitchen window while sipping raspberry hibiscus tea with honey.
After the Ice Festival was over Mr. A. Front stayed on for the week. Each day his mood descended into a deeper frigid funk, deep enough by Friday morning to cause scads of school districts to either delay their start by two hours or completely cancel classes. The next day Mr. Front stuffed the windchill back into his bags and left town. The temperature rose to a glorious balmy 25°, and I got an itch to have some fun, which brings me back to the ice sculptures. I decided I needed to photograph each one.
I found the list of businesses that sponsored the sculptures, grabbed my phone, and set out on a mission. It was like a treasure hunt, but without the stupid clues. I’m no good at puzzlers or clues or those math problems with trains leaving stations at different times, going different speeds, and heading different directions. I always wanted to shout, “Take the damn bus or drive or fly!”
Pretending my phone was a righteous 35mm with a telephoto lens of phallic proportions, I fancied myself a photojournalist. (Hey, it’s my Walter Mitty fantasy.) I started my ice sculpture treasure hunt with some coin in the bank because I had already photographed the icy racquetball player in front of the YMCA when I dropped my grandson off at his 3K school on Wednesday, and I had snapped a picture of the sculpture in front of the vet’s when I dropped off a urine sample for Cabela on Friday. Years ago, I played many racquetball games with a college friend at the Y. The vet who takes care of my dogs was a former student of mine, and she has cared for all of our dogs accept the first one my husband and I had. My ice safari would turn out to be a trip down memory lane.
I photographed the tender proposal in front of the jewelry store where my husband and I bought our wedding rings in 1985. The Victorian house was captured in front of the chamber of commerce. It represents Fairlawn Mansion built by Martin Pattison, a lumber and mining baron. After Pattison’s death, his wife Grace donated Fairlawn to be used as a children’s home. Two of my uncles lived there for a brief time after they became orphans.
The cool Tramp wooed the adorable Lady while sharing a sparkly, silver noodle made from a pipe cleaner in front of Vintage Italian Pizza (VIP). A couple of days ago when I ordered a pizza to be delivered, I told the young person who took our order that my husband and I have been ordering pizza from VIP for almost thirty years. “Wow,” he said, “I’ve only been working here for five months.” He didn’t sound old enough to have been doing anything for thirty years. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “you’ll get there soon enough.”
My favorite coffee shop sponsored a frozen hot coffee with chilled steam rising out of the mug. I took a break from my self-imposed photojournalism assignment and went inside to order a decaf latte with a shot of raspberry. Sometimes when I write I get cagey, so I pack up my computer and go to the coffeehouse and write. There’s always at least one other person plunking on a keyboard. We never speak because we don’t know each other, but I feel a sense of community.
The Richard Bong Center chose Rosie the Riveter to represent their museum honoring American veterans. My mother-in-law would have loved the cool-as-ice Rosie because she believed women were smart, capable, and strong.
My grandpa Howard served in the U.S. Army during WWII from January 1941 until August 1945. In 1943, he was wounded in Italy and received the Purple Heart. My sister, one of her sons, and I paid tribute to Howard through the Flag of Honor program started by American Legion Post 435 at the Bong Center. The American flag presented to Howard’s family at his funeral was raised during a short ceremony to commemorate his service in WWII
After photographing the ice sculptures downtown, I headed for Barker’s Island, the site of the festival, to track down more sculptures. When I parked the car, I spotted a large pile of misshaped ice marbles. They were part of the winter festival, but I’m not sure how. I liked thinking about them as giant marbles left behind by Paul Bunyan. I loved playing marbles when I was in second grade, and I could beat all the boys. In fifth grade I played Babe the Blue Ox in a play. I made my own costume by cutting out the silhouette of an ox from cardboard and painting it blue. When I was on stage, I was always behind the cardboard ox, and I had no lines, so I didn’t discover I had stage fright until I played the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz in seventh grade.
Across from Paul Bunyan’s abandoned marbles, were two of the prettiest ice sculptures. I don’t know what they symbolize, but I imagine they have a connection to sailors and ships and open waters. In the left photo in the background is the Seaman’s Memorial, a statue dedicated to sailors who have lost their lives on Lake Superior.
And the Ice Festival throne . . . heavy is the head that wears the crown and frozen is the butt that sits upon this throne.
The Superior Refinery sponsored an ice sculpture. On April 26, 2018, an explosion and fire rocked the refinery, which was owned by another company at the time. Luckily no one was killed at the refinery, and even luckier the explosion wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Because if it had been, everyone within a twenty-five mile radius from the refinery would probably not be around to tell their stories. There was a large-scale evacuation. My mother-in-law, who was suffering from heart failure was in the hospital that evening in a neighboring city, which was less than fifteen miles away, and her husband was with her. It was their 66th wedding anniversary. My husband and I visited them at the hospital. Less than a month later my mother-in-law passed away. But on that night, she had her humor with her, and she quipped, “Well, I won’t ever forget the date of the explosion.”
And on a happier note, my favorite ice sculpture, “The Town Musicians of Bremen,” was sponsored by the animal shelter. As a child, the story by the Brothers Grimm was one of my favorites. Turns out the four famous animal musicians have statues of themselves in Bremen, Germany, the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, and in front of some veterinary schools in Germany. (You can listen to the story here.)
And the rest of the sculptures . . . Click on the side arrows to move through the slideshow.