Banner: "Tatonka" by Team USA/Mexico, Zehnder's Snowfest, 2009
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When winter comes, Sean Gallagher is ready for it. Snow. Bring it on. The more the better! And those temps had better stay low. An artist and visual arts teacher at Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School, Gallagher is also a snow sculptor who for 10 years has been coaching local teams and carving competitively in the United States and abroad.  

Jeanne Lesinski: How did you become involved in snow carving?

Sean Gallagher: I first became interested in snow sculpting about 10 years ago when a friend and fellow art teacher, Amy Pobanz from John Glenn High School, told me that I should bring a team of kids to compete at the next Zehnder's Snowfest in Frankenmuth. Zehnder's has a high school division that allows a team of four students to compete against other schools. As a coach, teachers are allowed to dispense advice, but we can't physically provide assistance. Knowing very little that first year, I'm proud to say we still came in second. Of course, I became hooked and vowed to bring a team of my own next year to compete at the state division. To this day, I'm still coaching and carving. It's exhausting, but I absolutely love it.

JL: How long have you been doing this?

SG: I've been carving snow steadily in Frankemuth and beyond since 2002. It's a great way to travel and meet others that share my passion for sculpting.

JL: How did you meet the members of your team?

SG: The members of my team have changed over the years. After carving snow for the first four years or so at the state level, my first two partners got tired of it and quit on me. To continue carving, I know I needed to find new partners, so I began calling guys that I had competed against in previous years. Generally speaking, snow carvers are great people. We love to compete, but we're also very supportive of one another. Through sculpting, I've developed some wonderful friendships with sculptors from all over. Currently, I've been carving with the same group of guys for the past several years in Frankenmuth. When were not competing for Team USA/Mexico (Leoncio Rodriguez comes from Mexico City, Mexico), we're usually busy helping each other with commissioned pieces.

JL: Was there a learning curve from year to year?

SG: Yes, and to some degree, I keep learning and growing. Every competition, I take the time to walk around and see what other sculptors are doing and what they're using. For the most part, the tools we use need to be fabricated, so I'm always on the look-out for new and better equipment. My goal is to keep improving our tools each year. The better the tools, the easier it is to carve.

JL: Have you had any ups and downs?

SG: The weather is the biggest factor in an activity like this. It's a real drag to have to carve when the temperatures are pushing 50 degrees and it's raining. At that point, you feel like you're trying to manipulate a giant slushie, but this is what makes it interesting and a challenge. The weather is an element that we have no control over, so as a sculptor, we're forced to improvise and forge ahead.

JL: What was your best showing?

SG: Coming in first, of course, is nice, but winning a "people's choice award" is something all sculptors strive for. Knowing that the public preferred your piece is a great feeling, and this is why we come year after year: to transform tons of snow into a work of art that makes people happy. Several years ago we took this award while carving in Livigno, Italy. Somehow, winning this award while representing the USA made it even more sweet.

JL: How do you keep warm during the competition?

SG: Dressing in layers helps. It allows you to remove clothing when you're working especially hard and to replace them if the temperatures drop. Often times, we need to carve through the night because colder temperatures are ideal for carving. Warm boots and dry gloves are key. If your feet and hands become cold and wet, you're through carving.

JL: Do you have any funny stories to tell?

SG: The event in Frankenmuth draws thousands each year. Usually, without fail, people will approach us and ask where we get the snow to carve. When I tell them that most of it is man-made, they seem surprised. Many of them are under the assumption that we get it by train car from Canada.

JL: Do you have day advice to offer new snow sculptors?

SG: A curry comb is an indispensable tool for any serious snow sculptor.

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2011