Percival the tree climbing snowman
People often say to me ‘….doesn’t it break your heart when you see your work being washed away or melt?’ generally this is not the case, it is part of the artwork that it disappears and one of the joys is creating it in the first place.
But there are a few where I have to answer yes they do.
I wasn’t sure why this was until recently. I must have made hundreds of sculptures now but have only had one or two pieces where I was deeply saddened when it went away. One such piece was a sculpture of Charles Darwin that I made in my home town of Bradford some years ago. I remember cycling down to it after it was finished and dreaded the moment that I would have to destroy. This I put down to the fact that it was my greatest work at the time and in my home town. It seemed such a shame that it would go.
The closest I have come to that since is the stories we wrote about a Little girl called Spirit and the following year a Little White Fox. These were for an ice sculpture trail and we had spent weeks making them and developing the story only to put them out for a single day to flower and melt to nothing. But again, I thought that is was because they were strong works that it saddened me.
And then me and my girlfriend Claire made a Snowman.
I have to say he was a little different as he was the only Snowman I’ve ever seen climb a tree but he was a Snowman nonetheless.
It was a dark cold night and we were settling down after tea when Claire convinced me to leave my cosy warm kitchen to venture outside and make a snowman with her and Benji the Dog. So we made a plan to have a tree climbing snowman and set off to the woods.
With a step ladder, a bin and a bucket of water, and a carrot we marched on. We walked up and down the forest looking for the best tree for our snowman to climb, a combination of being visible to walkers by and my ability to get up it.
Finally we found a wonderful beech tree covered in snow and with lots of snow around it. The snow on the ground was far too dry even to make a snow ball so I explained to Claire that if you want it to stick you have to mix some water in it. So Claire mixed the snow and together we made some nice large balls. I then clambered up the step ladder and into the tree trying not to slip on the snow in the branches and once I felt steady Claire began to pass up the snow and gradually our snow man began to take form. Unfortunately, we only had one pair of warm gloves so we had to pass them between each other to keep warm.
Claire then made the head on the ground whilst I was finishing the body in the tree. She was having great difficulty as Benji the dog had developed an affinity to carrots and seemed to want to eat our Snowman’s nose. Finally the time came to place on the head and Claire passed it up tenderly, she had placed the carrot in deeply so that it didn’t fall out and had twined some twigs together for his eyes. He was very handsome and I was a little taken aback. With care I placed on his head so that he was looking up and then made an arm so that he appeared to be climbing the tree higher.
“Do you think he needs a scarf?” I asked.
“ Yes, I think so.”
So I took the scarf from around my neck and put it on our snowman to keep him cold, taking direction from Claire on styling and finally pouring a little water on it so it would freeze in place.
“Do you think he’s ready?” I called from the tree, my legs stiff from being up there for over an hour and my hands bitterly cold.
“He’s beautiful” Claire said beaming her approval.
Claire then held the step ladder whilst I climbed down. We then spent a good time taking photos of our Snowman climbing his tree and he was later named Percival.
The day after making the Snowman Claire thanked me for such a magical evening that she would remember forever and I have to say I thought it was magical too. It was very cold then and for days I heard stories of people seeing the snowman climb the tree and I went to visit him to see how he was doing and still he was contemplating how to get higher. A great thinker Percival the snowman.
But then of course the winds changed and the air began to get warmer. Whilst walking the dogs I went to see Percival and saw that he had started to melt, his scarf was no longer frozen and was blowing in the cold wind that made my eyes water. I sighed and walked on up over the fields looking around me to see all the melting snow. I realized that I was deeply saddened and didn’t really understand why. For sure it was something to do with the melting snowman, but it was just a snowman like any other. I then remembered the time when the great bust of Charles Darwin was to be demolished and felt the same pang of loss, but this was just a snowman and that was a huge sculpture 5 meters tall.
Somehow, the simple snowman had touched my soul just as the sculpture of Charles Darwin did all those years ago. I had lived and breathed that sculpture and it was weaved into the fabric of my being and those around me, it was an enduring but amazing experience that brought joy to myself, people that I love and hopefully many other people that I do not even know. And the snowman was the same. Claire and I had shared a wonderful moment together where we created something wonderful, it was joy, happiness, love; and it lived in the snowman climbing the tree. When he melted, my heart melted. And then I began to question if it was the cold wind that had made my eyes water.
Doing simple things with the people we love is so important; it is sharing the moment. With regards to art I think it is important to recognise that the most important pieces are not necessarily the ones that are most impressive, it is the ones that touch your soul for whatever reason and become a fabric of your being. These are the ones that we should be trying to make and the ones that are really important.
I wonder if we will see Percival the Snowman next year?