First Friday Cultural Walkabout had a unique addition this February. Under a canopy of streetlights, mammoth 300 pound blocks of snow were in the process of being carved and turned into fanciful sculptures up to 8 feet high. Crowds gathered to view the process and meet the sculptors, children lined up to take turns on a giant ice slide and everyone stopped to warm their hands over an open fire. Snowfest had arrived in downtown Sarnia.
“It is such a great opportunity to be a part of First Friday,” said Dan Tidball, the self named ‘Jack of all snowfest trades’ and lead organizer of the event as he sat huddled in a storefront set aside for the committee and the carvers to enjoy a brief reprieve from the cold. The partnership with First friday came after the festival lacked a venue and was threatened with cancellation. The 23 year old annual event found a new home in downtown Sarnia and no one could be happier than the organizer and the sculptors themselves.
Veteran of the competition, Bob Fulks, commented with enthusiasm about the bonuses of holding such an event downtown. “We really like having snowfest downtown much more” said Fulks, “there is no admission fee and there is actual foot traffic here!” Afterwards, Fulks demonstrated carving tools to a group of families that had wandered over during our interview and said that he had been talking to people all day. “There are a lot of new faces here,” said the long time participant from Michigan.
Fulks, part of the carving team representing the United States, which also included teammates Ian Washington, and Shannon Underhill — took top honours with their version of the Statue of Freedom from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. They also won the People’s Choice award. Eric Hutchinson and Derek Spikowski, also from the U.S., were runners up with their beer kegs and crates sculpture.
Locally, Dennis Mitchell, Alyshia Ingles, Dan Prouty and Kaelan Mitchell, representing The Lawrence House won Charity Challenge – Charity’s Choice Award for their sculpture of the Tardis from Dr. Who.
First Friday Magazine’s own Shawn McKnight won this year’s Artist’s Choice and a Children’s Choice awards with his Artwalk team. A big congratulations to all the hardworking artists who braved the cold to create the beautiful and intricate sculptures.
Downtown Sarnia certainly reciprocated the love. The Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery adjacent to the festival received plenty of visitors over the weekend and Coffee Culture was quite busy serving up warm beverages and yummy treats.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, it is estimated that over 1000 people viewed Snowfest and participated in First Friday. The sculptors that participated can really teach us a lesson or two about how to stay active and happy through the winter we have left and to celebrate the beauty of the snow that is (seemingly) all around us.
by Melissa Upfold