By John Steven Shirley Jr.
For the Budgeteer News
The first week of December, a storm buried Duluth under many inches of snow. As snowplows piled snow to make streets safe, a Duluth man piled snow into high mounds to create works of art that the area has been enjoying for more than a quarter century.
Since 1987, Harry Welty has made snow sculptures on his front lawn at 2101 East Fourth Street. Towering over one of Duluth’s busier roads, these objects are well known to Duluth residents and others who have travelled up 21st Ave. East and East Fourth Street.
Not missing a year since he began, Harry has built many often-large and intricate sculptures, in an attempt to “snow” the public away. Many are made just for fun. Others contain chilling political satire.
Harry began his snow-molding career years ago, when his first-grade daughter asked him to make a snow dinosaur. Being out of work at the time, he devoted much time to this giant task.
“What I managed to make was an iguana with a large overbite,” he said.
Not satisfied with this Jurassic error, he went into large-scale dinosaur production for the next few winters. After his dinosaur phase became extinct, he went on to make sculptures of increasing variety and quality, continually improving his methods.
One method that has remained constant is the collection of snow. Using a snow scoop, he pushes snow downhill from his backyard, to form a large pile in his front yard.
After piling up the snow, if the snow is dry, he waits for a warm streak before continuing. He finds it is much easier to work with wet sticky snow. Most of his process involves building up the objects like clay, as opposed to chiseling.
Since this recent snow was wet, he went right away to the step of piling up snow to the needed height of the sculpture, and molding the basic shape. During this step it helps to be able to visualize the final result.
This is why 15 years ago he started making scale clay models of the sculptures he intends to form. Placed on a board to replicate the slope of the hill, these models help him to make the real sculptures at the correct angle with respect to the road. Harry brings the models outside and with frequent comparison ensures the sculptures fit
“If I make a small copy first, it is pretty easy for me to use this to sculpt … like making sure the nose is in the right place,” Welty said.
He tries to finish his sculpture before it get too cold and the snow too hard to easily work. After it hardens, he sometimes does some fine-tuning chiseling. He uses a variety of tools to chisel, including a mason’s trowel and a metal shovel. Often, he needs some wet sticky snow to build up parts of the structure, but there is no wet snow.
The solution is to make his own wet snow. One way is to fill a tub with snow and let it sit in his house. About 7 years ago, he discovered a method he calls “cooking snow.” With this method, he pours water on a pile of snow and then covers this pile with other snow. The insulating properties of snow cause the whole pile take on a wet consistency that is good for creating details.
Depending on the size and complexity, sculptures can take him a few days or a week to complete.
Many of his sculptures are lighthearted. Others reflect his strong views. More than once, he has used his sculptures at his well-trafficked location as his “snowy pulpit.”
“This is how I get out my inner political cartoonist,” he said.
One of his early works voiced his objection to an unsafe intersection. This political “snow test” was a sculpture of an overturned car, with a man trying to get out.
He recently made a sculpture of an elephant waving a confederate flag, as a commentary on the Republican party.
Many of his political sculptures have voiced his dissatisfaction with the Duluth school board, especially as it regards the Red Plan. These have included a Mad Hatter’s tea party and a Trojan horse.
In 1990 he made a very detailed sculpture of King Kong on top of the Central Administration Building, to show his feelings about the school board of that time.
He just finished his first work of the season. This work features Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster of the North.
Like Rudolf, Welty’s work will go down in Duluth’s history.
For more information about Harry Welty, including many photos of his works, visit www.snowbizz.com.