WATERVILLE — A three-woman team from central Maine will be sawing, whittling, detailing and sanding a giant snow sculpture next week on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin as part of the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition.

Serena Sanborn, of Winslow; Cathy Thompson, of Madison; and Thompson’s daughter, Amanda Bolduc, of Skowhegan, will represent Maine in the event, which will include 15 teams of three sculptors each from all over the country.

Up to 40,000 people watch the snow sculpting over four days — Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 — and may ask questions and speak to the sculptors as they work. They sculpt at least eight hours each day and throughout the night on Feb. 1, stopping at noon Feb 2.

“There are always people watching and talking and asking questions,” Sanborn, 44, said. “It’s very public and interactive. It’s an art form where there’s constant interaction with people, kids. It’s really fun.”

Bolduc, 45, is the team captain for the Maine team, The Carvivores. She and Thompson, 66, invited Sanborn to join the team because a member dropped out.

They will sculpt a dramatic, complex work they have named “Prevailing Wings.”

“It’s like a big archangel overpowering a demon. It’s good versus evil,” Thompson said. “We all kind of started putting our ideas together. The more you plan it — two-dimensional and three-dimensional — the more familiar you get with the concept, the more ready you are to hit the ground running when you get there. We went online and looked at images, chose three or four different images and took what we liked from each one and married them together in one concept.”

The women have been planning the sculpture and working with clay to prepare for the competition.

“I’ve been practicing in clay and doing drawings,” Sanborn said. “We all have different strengths.”

They fly to Wisconsin on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they start with a 9-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide cylinder of snow that has been prepared and packed ahead of time for competitors.

They will use big saws and choppers to cut off large blocks of snow they do not want and then whittle what remains down to a rough shape, focus on detailing and then sanding the sculpture.

Their tools have been shipped to Wisconsin ahead of time because they are not allowed on the airplane: wallpaper scrapers, pruning saws, horse curry combs, ice augers, files, wallboard knives, wood chisels, gardening tools, ice chippers, floor shavers and rough sandpaper. Power tools are prohibited.

Snow sculpting is tricky, as the weather can make or break a work of art, according to the women. Temperature that is too warm, or a lot of sun, can cause snow to melt and turn to ice, which presents problems for sculptors, they said. When it is very cold, sculpting is even harder.

Theirs is the only three-woman team competing this year.

“Not a lot of women do this,” Sanborn said. “It’s really physical work. You’re moving tons of snow in three days. It’s physical. It’s competitive. It’s in front of people. It really is dominated by men. New England has more female sculptors than any region in the U.S.”

SHARED PASSION

Bolduc spends part of the year in Florida with her family and will leave for Wisconsin from that state. She, Thompson and former teammate Paul Warren, of Massachusetts, won fifth place in the national competition in Lake Geneva in 2016 with their “Crying Wolf — Sheep for Brains” sculpture. In 2017, they placed third and won the People’s Choice Award for the sculpture, “Hello, Can You Tell Me the Way to the Heart?”

In 2015, they were the Maine champions at Camden, Maine’s, Winterfest snow sculpting competition — the first time they ever snow-sculpted — where they created “Downward Dive,” a large, abstract fish.

Last year, they created “Fish Out of Water” in Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville as part of a Waterville Creates! event. They taught 187 youths how to snow-sculpt. On Feb. 16 this year, Thompson and Sanborn will host an event in Castonguay Square in which Thompson will carve an 8-foot-tall sculpture and Sanborn will carve and teach.

“To me, it’s precious time spent with my adult daughter that doesn’t normally happen,” Thompson said.

Thompson and Bolduc got into snow sculpting after competing in sand sculpting competitions at Fort Myers Beach, Florida. They had been spectators at several competitions and were intrigued.

“We said, ‘Let’s just try it; let’s just do it,’ and we made the cutest little SpongeBob and Patrick in a boatmobile, and the kids were dying. They loved it,” Thompson recalled.

They have been entering sand-sculpting contests ever since for a total of 13 years. One year, Thompson, Bolduc and Bolduc’s son all won first prizes.

“We swept the plate. It was so much fun,” Thompson said.

Bolduc said working in sand and snow are quite different; sand has more gravitational limits.

“Sand usually needs to be sculpted in a triangular shape, whereas snow can undergo nearly limitless configurations,” she said. “Snow is more susceptible to climate and weather conditions. If temperatures get over freezing, snow begins to alter its structural integrity and turns into a potato-like substance that is nearly impossible to sculpt.”

Sculpting sand, she said, is much easier on the body, but team members must shovel 10 tons of sand to get it packed properly for sculpting.

“Sculpting sand is like cutting through butter with a hot knife, whereas sculpting snow requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength, especially when sculpting a 9-foot-high, 8-foot-wide cylinder,” Bolduc said. “The snow will typically freeze at night, forming ice throughout the block. We are not allowed to use any power tools in snow sculpting; therefore, we are constantly chipping away at ice and snow for at least eight hours each day.”

There are about 50 professional sand sculptors in the U.S., according to Bolduc.

“There are even more snow sculptors, with the numbers running around 200 to 250 who compete nationwide. It’s definitely not a hobby for the weak. I’m sure there would be many more sculptors competing if it wasn’t so demanding on the body.”

Bolduc, the mother of three, home-schools her children, ages 7, 14, and 15, and is an Army National Guard veteran.

Thompson, who retired eight years ago as a chemical purchasing agent for Sappi in Skowhegan, a job that took her all over the world, loved drawing as a child. She paints in watercolor and acrylics, makes jewelry, does carpentry work and builds everything from fences to doors. Sanborn, the programming and outreach coordinator for Waterville Creates!, met Thompson in an art class. She invited Thompson to do snow sculpting in 2015 at Lake George Regional Park in Skowhegan.

Sanborn competes in snow sculpting competitions in Jackson, New Hampshire, and is there this weekend with her sisters Phoebe, of Winslow, and Bria, of Wellington, whom she taught to sculpt. They are creating a giant dragon in that competition.

Sanborn, whose parents, Sam and Alan, were part of a group that many years ago founded Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, also is a printmaker, does intricate pumpkin carving and has competed in Easter bonnet competitions.

She started snow sculpting in 2013. Sandy Moore, of Alaska, a friend who has been snow sculpting for 30 years and competes in international competitions, taught her how to sculpt. They were teammates in 2013 in New Hampshire, where they created a giant squirrel with an acorn. Sanborn said she has sculpted in temperature dipping to 20 below zero in that state.

“I seem to be drawn to very unusual art forms,” she said. “I love art that disappears. I love the idea of creating art that disappears and changes. I don’t know why. I just think it’s very interesting.”

THE REAL PRIZE

While the national sponsors of the competition in Wisconsin pay for hotels and meals, the competitors must raise money for airfare and other expenses. A GoFundMe page was set up, and the community has rallied for the Maine team. Grand Central Cafe in Waterville hosted a night event during which all proceeds from meals and tips — around $600 — were donated and team members served as guest waiters.

“I was so humbled by that,” Thompson said. “What an example to people for how to live their lives.”

Other sponsors are Tax Pro, Inc., owned by Bolduc and her husband, Rob, with offices in Skowhegan, Dover-Foxcroft and Pittsfield; and Brickyard Hollow Brewery, in Yarmouth.

Fabulous Nebulae, Wilbur’s of Maine and Maine Seacoast Vegetables donated Maine-made gifts for the team to give to all the team members competing next week. The other teams hail from Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin. Colorado, Illinois and Wisconsin have two teams each. Julia Sidelinger coordinated the gift donations.

The sculptures are judged on creativity, message and mastery. The teams do the voting, but the sculptors cannot vote for their own team. Awards in the form of ice chisels are given to first, second and third place winners, and spectators choose “The People’s Choice” award.

“That, to us, is the real prize,” Thompson said of the latter.

The progress of the Maine team may be followed on their Facebook page, The Carvivores of Maine.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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