Localize It: Jesse Mellor prepares for this year’s snow sculpting contest

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Few places outside of Alaska can say they have the weather conditions and capability for snow sculpting, let alone the talent and hard work that is necessary for the art.

Jesse Mellor serves as a prime example of someone who has taken on this way of creating art, as he has been snow sculpting for eight years now. He has lived in Anchorage since he was a teenager and found his career in welding once he graduated. Mellor’s knack for manipulation of metal is easily applicable to snow sculpting, which is something he did not consider when he first began.

“I had a buddy of mine call me one weekend saying that he signed us up for the Fur Rondy snow sculptures, and I was going to be helping him out all weekend with that. At that point I had never even thought into this had no idea what snow sculpting really was. This was eight years ago so I’ve learned a lot since then,” Mellor said.

Nearly all of Mellor’s sculpting time happens during Fur Rondy season in Anchorage, when the festival holds a competition for the sculptors. Here, they have one week to carve something out of a huge block of snow to be judged and also paid visits by crowds during Fur Rondy. People can enter as singles or in teams of three, and the winner gets sent to the national snow-sculpting competition in Wisconsin. The ones who enter in this competition take it very seriously, and they put in extremely long hours and effort into their sculptures.

“During the week of sculpting, my team and I put in between 150 and 200 hours of work on the sculpture. It depends a lot on how the weather cooperates but we all are willing to put in as much time as we need to finish at the end of the week,” Mellor said.

There is no specific theme that the Fur Rondy snow sculptures must oblige to, which gives the artists freedom to create whatever they want. In the past, Mellor has taken a more mythical route with his sculptures, creating minotaurs, phoenixes, krakens and other creatures. This year, the team has decided to take a different route and create a more Alaskan piece.

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“This year, we’re doing a Native American themed piece that centers around the raven and its importance to so many different cultures in Native Alaskan history. There will be someone performing a traditional Native Alaskan dance about the raven also, we thought a sculpture themed similarly would tie in well,” Mellor said.

It can be difficult for the sculptors to create when the weather does not cooperate, but this year’s snowfall and temperatures seem to leave the sculptors feeling positive about how the sculpting will go. The most challenging part of snow sculpting is often the weather because no one can truly change or alter it to benefit them, so this year’s conditions should only help to create even an even better outcome.

“The most challenging part of snow sculpting is hoping the weather is on your side. As for everything else, it goes pretty smoothly. The people down there are awesome. Everyone is willing to share information, tools, and anything really that would help someone out. I learn something new from these people every year,” Mellor said.

Once Fur Rondy begins, Mellor’s sculpture plus many others will be displayed for anyone to walk through and experience.