Sundre artist takes gold at ice sculpture competition in China

Alberta artist Morton Burke has won the gold medal at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, an international snow sculpting competition in China.

Burke and his team, the Atti2ude Club, won gold for excellence in sculpture for their artwork, which featured four large buffalo heads facing in different directions.

Burke told the Calgary Homestretch that he chose the buffalo as an image that projects nature's power.

"The title of the piece was The Power of Nature and our statement about that sculpture was that the Earth is facing challenges that threaten its beauty and creatures, and the power of nature could come together from all four directions to protect and defend it."

The team had three days and six hours to work on the sculpture, which is 14 feet tall (4.3 metres) — each head is eight feet tall (2.4 metres) — in temperatures between –20 and –30 C.

"Luckily, our adrenaline level was high, and that kept us warm along with the fact that we had to work very quickly," Burke said.

The international team was made up of Burke and his sister Brontie Burke of Calgary, Beata Rostas of Hungary and Gerard Motondi of Kenya.

Submitted by Morton Burke
Submitted by Morton Burke

Burke said he had worked with Motondi and Rostas once before, during an event in Russia.

Burke normally works in stone, and had worked with snow just one time before, as had Rostas.

"None of us were very experienced in snow," he said. We learned a lot while we were working, and the big thing was a change in temperature and the location of the sun — that really changed the characteristics of the material throughout the day. So sometimes it was hard and would break off in big lumps and sometimes it was sugary and it just flaked off."

The team used finger chisels, shovels, spoons and table knives to create the intricate features of the four-headed sculpture.

Morton Burke
Morton Burke

Burke had planned out the design and brought a model of it with him. The team used that as a guide.

"We had that to refer to when we completed one element successfully, then it was quite easy with highly skilled sculptors for them to just duplicate it on all four heads," he said.

The competition was filled with teams from around the world.

"The competition was unbelievable — experienced teams from different countries around the world —and so we were a little intimidated at first," Burke said. "But when we got into our own, we were comfortable, and just worked away at our own pace, and we completed our piece in the time allowed."

Morton Burke
Morton Burke

Burke said part of the fun was having large crowds watch their every move.

"I don't have figures this year, but last year 18 million people attended the event. So at times, well, it was security guards to keep the public back from us," he said. "But at times, we just had to kind of break the rules and open the retaining fence and let them come in and take pictures with us. It was a lot of fun and really exciting."

The ice sculptures will stay up as public art for the rest of the winter.

Burke, the creator of the Bergen Rocks Sculpture Symposium based in Sundre, Alta., said his next project will be to disperse 20 monumental stone sculptures throughout southern Alberta, and to continue promoting art in the province.

With files from the Calgary Homestretch.