Lesson 16.6: Art Connection

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Snow + Math = Art

It was the last week in January in Breckenridge, Colorado and teams of sculptors were arriving from all over the world to compete in the International Snow Sculpture Championship. Each team would work for five days to carve a huge work of art from a 12-feet-tall, 20-ton block of snow. The sculptures would be of animals or people or things—some humorous, others abstract. But all of these temporary works of art would reflect months of planning and all would be carefully carved to scale.

Whirled White Web” was this year's Team USA–Minnesota's entry. This five-member team was made up of a sculptor and computer science and math college professors. Every year the team competes with a sculpture that reflects a geometric design—one that most people would find hard to imagine. And, every year the team's sculpture is more and more intricate and mathematically challenging than the last.

Designing the Sculpture

Early in the planning process, one of the computer science professors and his students developed a computer program for sculptors. The program allows a sculptor to input a design and quickly see how it would look in three dimensions (3-D). The program was used to create the 3-D design for this year's snow sculpture. The design was passed on to a machine that made a scale model of the sculpture. The model-making machine also marked the 6-in.-tall model to show where the team would have to set up scaffolds on the actual sculpture in order to reach certain parts of it.

Preparing the Snow

The townspeople of Breckenridge helped get ready for the event by producing the enormous blocks of snow. They used machine-made snow—even in January a big enough snowstorm is not a sure thing—and packed it into 12-foot-tall wooden forms with 10 foot-by-10 foot bases. When filled, each form held 20 tons of packed-down snow. (That's about the weight of 10 vans!)

Preparing to Sculpt

Before leaving for Breckenridge, Team USA–Minnesota had made some of its own snow-carving tools. They would need these to carve out the twisty inside parts of the design.

The Sculpting Begins

It was 11 o'clock on Wednesday morning when the competition began. The team started by drilling holes all over the snow block in order to loosen some of the snow. Then they cut away the parts of the block that they did not want as part of the sculpture.

After two longs days of working, carving, and cutting away unneeded parts of the snow block, the basic framework of the “Whirled White Web” appeared at last.

The Sculpting Ends

On Friday, the team worked until late at night. They continually looked over at their model as they carved, and continually measured the thickness of the snow in each section they sculpted.

The weather, however, was working against them. It had been unusually warm that week. The sun was strong, so as the team carved into it, the snow was slowly melting. Some other teams set up barriers hoping to keep the sun off their sculptures, but this seemed not to work well.

The Results

The team was back at work very early Saturday morning. They smoothed the snow on every surface of the sculpture. They worried about the sun as it climbed higher in the sky and about the record high temperatures that were predicted for that day.

Then, at 10 a.m., all sculpting stopped. The judging began.

The team members were excited about their work. They thought it turned out to be all that they had hoped for. Then, after watching the judges take a good, long look at their work, the team left for lunch.

When they returned to their sculpture, the team was saddened. The sculpture had collapsed in the sun! Fortunately, though, the judges had seen all they had to see. “Whirled White Web” won second place in the 13th International Snow Sculpture Championship!

Word Wise

A person who sculpts, or carves, wood, stone, or other material into a work of art: The sculptor's name is on the wall behind his sculpture.

To turn very quickly in a circle, or spin: As the music slowed, the dancers whirled one more time and then came to a stop.

Complicated: The tiny stitches on this tablecloth form an intricate pattern.

A temporary structure built to make a hard-to-reach place reachable: Whenever the wind blew, the painters held on tight to the scaffold, high off the ground.

Something that blocks movement toward something else: Orange plastic fencing is used as a barrier around the construction site.

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Homophones are words that sound exactly alike but have different spellings and meanings. Here are some pairs of homophones.

  • deer
  • pair
  • male
  • piece
  • team

Team USA–Minnesota worked hard to come up with a name for its sculpture. The team members were thinking of certain homophones when they agreed on the name “Whirled White Web.”

Say aloud “Whirled White Web” several times. Which homophones had the team been thinking of? Why do you think the team decided that this was a good name for a snow sculpture entry in an international competition?

Data Hunt

To design the snow sculpture “Whirled White Web,” Team USA–Minnesota used a 6-in.-tall model. The team used the scale of 1 in. : 24 in. This is the same as 1 in. : 2 ft.

You can make your own model for a snow sculpture. (If you don't expect to be around snow, you could use your model to build a sand sculpture at the beach next summer.)

Work with a partner or with a small group. Make a list of ideas for designs that you think would be fun to sculpt. Choose one idea that you would like to work on together. Then get:

  • paper
  • pencil
  • model material: clay or wet, packed sand
  • plastic knives and spoons
  • ruler

Decide on a scale for a model of your design. Each of you should make a scale drawing of your design on paper. The drawing should be the same height and width as your model will be.

To make your model from clay, start by building up the clay to match the height and width of your scale drawing. (If you are using sand for your model, start by packing the sand into a pail or a bowl. Wet it and pour off excess water as you pack down the sand. Turn the pail over onto your work surface.) Then carve away. Be sure to look back at your scale drawing from time to time.