The Three Graces (2007)

The Three Graces

In the winter of 2007 I was a member of a snow carving team representing Canada in the international competition at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli in Quebec. It was called Fete D’Hiver, “Winter Party” in English. Vahe Tokmajyan was the team captain, Mark Stuthiet and I filled out the team. The event was four days so the trip was about 6.

Saint-Jean-Port-Joli was established in 1677, when the first ships arrived here from France they brought carpenters, priests, shop keepers, millers and artists. The French have a long tradition of public art.

This small town was named “Worlds Best Creative Destination” by the International Creative Tourism Network in 2015. It is a shining example of the social and economic development opportunities that art can provide. They host too many arts events to list, sculpture symposia in the summer and winter, music festivals, painting workshops, dance……..the town attracts tourists from around the world.

The Event

The block you got to work on were chosen by drawing team’s numbers from a hat and you were assigned a block. I figured the blocks were all about the same, small ice inclusions and

maybe a bit of grass or something here and there. The large blocks were for the international competition and the smaller ones for teams from around Quebec.

Our neighbors were Algeria and Cuba. It’s pretty much normal to make friends quickly, share tools and techniques, we paused for a group photo before beginning work in earnest.

After we marked the block out it was time to do some power digging to be able to work on the masks and figures.

Our maquette was developed based on a square block so we had to adjust but could still use it to refer to for decorative details. No biggy.

Despite having a great maquette and everyone on the team knowing what we were going for it’s still necessary to discuss our strategy with attacking the block.

The artist’s lounge was right beside the work site, breakfast and suppers were served there and during working hours someone was always in there warming up. The best thing about it was the clothes driers, you could throw your gloves and boot liners in there for a few minutes and take them out toasty warm. That’s an idea every cold weather carving event should adopt!!

During breaks a tractor with a snow blower came around and got rid of our excess snow, there is a lot. The guys from warmer climates were amazed with this machine, what would they think of a Zamboni?

The first day was particularly cold, I felt sorry for the Cubans and the Algerians. They hung in there and worked through every day. There were a lot of unknowns for them, they had never seen snow before and for sure had never experienced below zero temperatures.

By the end of the first day we had a lot of our form blocked out. It seemed like all of the teams were about the same, there were hints of what was to come.

After a wonderful supper in the artist’s lounge we worked off any left over energy we had socializing and dancing, probably later into the night than we should have but it was a lot of fun!!

This is about what we had to begin with on the morning of the second day.

St-Jean-Port-Joli has a booming tourist trade in the summer, the town is chock full of art and situated right beside the St Lawrence Seaway. In the late fall almost all of the restaurants close for the winter season but each day one of them opened up and put on a lunch for us. It was generally agreed that the French tradition of nice wine with your meal is something we should adopt at home.

Regular breaks in the artist’s lounge ensured that we stayed warm and inspired throughout the day. The community of St. Jean Port-Joli does an excellent job of hosting the artists.

By the end of the day our sculpture had moved along nicely. We were almost finished blocking out the forms and ready to start working on negative space and details.

Supper was catered in the artist’s lounge before the tables were cleared away for the evening entertainment.

After supper we relaxed and had some much needed fun. Entertainment was provided every night for a few hours before heading back to our hotel.

On the morning of the third/fourth day I’d say our sculpture and the Algerian’s and the Cuban’s were at about the same stage. A little bull work left to do and already starting on some details. I say third/fourth because this would be “The Night of Long Knives”. Work started at 8am on Saturday morning and would finish at noon on Sunday. It sounds like a long time but when you have more and more details to do and the other team’s work is looking great it’s no problem to stay alert. Adrenaline is a great motivator.

Mark used an ice auger to start opening up the block, it made a huge difference to develop some separation of the forms. After drilling out some tunnels it was much easier to make the spaces larger with long handled shovels and ice chippers.

Again, the site was buzzing with visitors all day long. A big tent was put up for the closing ceremony and dance.

It was a pile of fun working through the night. The whole town seemed to come out to root us on. We had to keep going and going as all tools had to be laid down at noon on Sunday. Now that our forms were defined we worked on making distinct definitions and creating details. By the middle of the night it was looking good so we could take it a little easier and take a little time to consider what details would be the most effective.

Team Cuba

Team Algeria

Everybody was finished by noon, we had 8 hours to visit and tour the site enjoying everyone’s talent and hard work. Most participants took some time to have a nap too after working 28 hours straight in the cold. Thank goodness for the volunteers that made the rounds all night long with snacks and hot beverages. There was lots going on for visitors, a taffy pull, maple syrup poured out on snow, fire dancers, music……Fete D’hiver for sure.

We were pleased with our result. “The Three Graces” was based on the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus, from Greek mythology” representing youth, beauty and elegance.

One of our graces was strumming a lute, another playing a flute and the third striking an alluring pose.

You’d think coming from a cold climate we might have an advantage in this competition but, alas, the Cuban team won first prize. We straggled in with second but definitely not complaining, participation was a huge reward in itself, coming home with any prize was icing on the cake so getting second place was a big honor.

A beautiful closing ceremony was held inside a big tent followed by a dance that we all enjoyed. I’d love to return to Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, it was so much fun and we were made to feel completely at home. Hats off to this little community that loves art so much. The opportunity for communities near my own home is huge, we have been busy building roads and clearing land since we became a province and art has not been a major focus. With modern transportation and the internet we have a real opportunity to catch up with communities and countries that have realized the social and economic opportunities that art can provide.