Becker man takes snow sculpturing to the next level
By Bill Vossler
When Paul Larcom created his first snow sculpture a dozen years ago, he had no idea the leprechaun would morph into a half-dozen more snow sculptures over the years in the front yard of his Becker home. And he would have never guessed he would be building a 12-foot-high, 23-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex, which he did last winter. And that T. Rex would become a spectacular attraction in Becker.
“I didn’t realize how much coverage the T. Rex would receive, and how much people would like it. I’d guess about 10,000 people saw it during the four weeks it was up last winter (in February).” he said. “People of all ages, from two or three into the 90s, came to see it. Every person, child or elderly, seemed in awe of it. I suppose they thought it was impossible to see an almost full-sized dinosaur right in front of them. So most of the people were really excited about it, and I enjoyed that.”
“It all started when my sister Jenny had an idea to make a snow sculpture of a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day in 2011, so together we did,” he said. “A lot of people liked it, so during the next couple of years we made more of them. And then I started doing different snow figures by myself every year since.”
Those sculptures in following years included the racing snail from The Neverending Story, a Mystic from the Dark Crystal, the character Jareth the Goblin King from the movie Labyrinth, Han Solo in carbonite, the Wampa Snow Monster from Star Wars, and the Tauntaun, a Snow Lizard from Star Wars.
“People said they couldn’t see the Tauntaun from the road. They also mistook the creature for a dinosaur, and were disappointed to find out it wasn’t. So I said the next year I would make a dinosaur, and put it close to the road so a lot of people could enjoy it. I guess I was right. That was T. rex.”
Kids really seemed to enjoy the dinosaur the most, said Paul. “They seemed very excited about it, seeing it in lifelike scale almost, and being so large. One bus driver parked at the side of road so the kids could see it on their way to school.”
Once he decides what he will make, he starts building, using reference material. “Like with the T. rex, I used photographs from Jurassic Park, and pictures of a little model T. rex kit.
Whenever I work, I just kind of start building, and see where it goes. I try to find the most interesting pose for whatever I‘m doing, and keep adding onto it.”
Different snows work for different things, he said. “If the weather is still warm I can pack snow together to make a quick build up. So I’ll take advantage of a day like that,
until the snow won’t stick any more.”
Then he takes snow inside. “I’ll fill pails and washtubs with snow and take them into the house to warm up and pack down. Sometimes I spray water from the sink nozzle on top of the snow to help warm it up faster. Or I might add water to snow outside.”
Fresh snow works best to make fine details. “The icicles are smaller and I can pack it a lot better, especially making figures of human scale. With the really big ones like the T. Rex the snow doesn’t matter so much because they usually don’t need much detail. But with something small, I like to use fresh snow, which is finer.”
The biggest problem in making the sculptures is the weight of the snow, Paul said. To make something as large and heavy as “Timmy,” the T. rex, Paul was leery, after what happened to the Wampa. “I was about 75 percent done with the Wampa, and because it wasn‘t centered, it got a little off-balance and fell backwards, so I had to start all over again. Since then, nothing has fallen, except maybe the occasional small part.“
With that in mind, Paul was determined that his largest snow sculpture of all wouldn’t fall.
“With the T. rex I started out with two large sticks for the legs, and a tree branch to support the sculpture from behind, like a backbone. Then I packed them with snow. I also used sticks to support the arms and jaw. I wondered if the dinosaur would stand upright or not, so I added the posts to make it firmer. The rest I sculpted and shaped by hand using a sculptor’s loop tool, so no molds or anything else.”
Paul generally works when he has spare time. “Sometimes if it’s close to being done, or the weather is nice, I’ll work all night long and into the morning. I dress properly, and usually stay pretty warm. When it is really cold out I wear my snowshoes and hat and scarf and gloves to keep me warm, down to about 20 degrees. One year at 30 below zero, I was outside all day, and accidentally touched the aluminum ladder with my bare hands, and got frostbite on them. It took weeks for them to heal.”
Sometimes Paul has to work pretty gingerly to get his creations finished. “With the T. Rex I had to make scaffolding with a board with one end on the ladder and the other on the back of the dinosaur so I could go onto the back of the T. rex and work there. I had to prop myself up on top and hoped I wouldn’t fall. Which I didn‘t.”
Each creation took a different amount of time to create, he said. “A human scale one might take a couple of weeks. Larger ones take even longer. Something huge like the T. rex with lots of mass took a lot longer.”
Over a three week period he spent 170 hours working on the Tyrannosaurus rex, plus several more hours adding spray paint.
On the leprechauns he’d discovered how green food coloring in a spray bottle worked to his advantage. “After that I wanted more color with Han Solo in Carbonite, so I bought gray spray paint which made that one more visible from the road.”
Coloring the dinosaur brownish made the difference, he said. “It made it look very real.”
The most difficult part of the T. Rex was the head, said Paul. “It was hollow, so you couldn’t really push hard against it, and then I had to make all the little teeth for it, and glue those in by putting water on them, and holding them on the snow sculpture, and after a few seconds they were frozen to it..”