For some people the piling up of snow outdoors means work — shoveling driveways, plowing roads, trying to avoid traffic accidents — while for others it brings opportunities for play, like snowball fights, building snowmen and hitting the slopes. But for a Stansbury Park father and son, this winter’s snow has taken on a totally different meaning. The duo has been using the snow to creatively display the things about life they enjoy as a way to overcome the gloom of a national tragedy that struck their hearts.
It was the day of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Eight-year old Brock Shepherd returned home from second grade at Stansbury Park Elementary and was greeted at the door by his father.
“I gave him a big hug and told him to put on his warm clothes and gloves because we were going to go outside to do something fun,” said Dan Shepherd, Brock’s father. “After the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook, I was just happy he came home and I wanted to give him that extra hug and do something special to remember the things that we do together that we enjoy.”
The father and son headed outside where the day’s snowfall had blanketed the front yard. Dan began making snowballs and putting them in a pile.
“What are we doing, Dad?” said Brock. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what we are doing.”
The two began piling up snowballs and talked about what they could create out of a pile of the round balls of tightly-packed snow.
By squeezing the snowballs together and shaping them with a shovel and a kitchen knife, Dan and Brock created a snowman holding a fishing pole with a giant fish on the other end of the pole. They also painted the fish and the snowman to add color to their creation.
“Fishing is something we have fun doing together,” said Dan.
Neither Dan nor Brock claim to have any experience or expertise in art of any form, especially carving things out of snow. Their initial frosty handiwork was a spur of the moment creation.
School children walking home commented on the sculpture of the fishing snowman and neighbors inquired what the pair’s next project would bring to the neighborhood. Encouraged by the response, Dan and Brock decided to continue their creations.
The two like to hunt together, so they sculpted a herd of five deer. After the deer came a group of sports balls representing the sports the father and son enjoy playing together. Each project took two or three days to create with the couple often working together late into the night with the help of a spotlight.
As the sun warmed the sculptures and they lost their definition, Dan and Brock would knock them down and start their next project.
While they were building the sports balls display, neighbors came by and tried to guess what they were going to be.
A $20 gift certificate to Café Rio, purchased by the Shepherds, was awarded to the neighbor that correctly guessed all five sports balls.
The sports balls included a football on a kicking tee, a golf ball on a tee, a basketball, an 8-ball from a pool table, and a large baseball mitt holding a baseball. The display included a sign that read “Snowballs by Brock.”
The final creation on the Shepherd’s front lawn was two snowmobiles complete with helmeted riders.
The Shepherds are careful not to let out too many secrets about how their creations were made or plans for what might be next if Stansbury Park receives another snowfall before the end of winter.
The team discovered helpful information about snowcarving as they worked. Wet, heavy snow is easier to pack and carve than dry, powdery snow, Brock said.
Some parts, like small necks that support large heads, need extra strength that is achieved by wetting the snow down and letting the water freeze.
Some techniques were learned by trial and error. The first sculptures were painted using food coloring which bled. Black turned to green, Dan said. Regular spray paint is now the artists’ choice for coloring their creations.
Only two tools other than hands, a shovel and a knife, were used to shape the snow. However, some other objects were used to help form props, such as a toilet plunger that was for the golf ball.
It is interesting how a tragedy like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary can bring people closer to their families and make them appreciate the things, like their children, that they love the most in life, according to Dan.
“We just had fun making the sculptures together and it made people happy,” said Dan.