Rob Neyland, master sculptor and co-founder of the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, said he’s always learning new techniques to incorporate into his designs.
“Any time you go anywhere and see other artists that are working in the same medium, you’re eyeing their tools and seeing what can be done,” he said. “Different visual ways of accomplishing the same thing — it’s a huge learning experience every time you’re out there with other artists doing essentially the same thing.”
Years of favorite sculptures
Neyland and Team Breck have honed their skills and their process throughout the event’s 24-year history, pushing the limits with snow sculptures that sometimes seem to defy the laws of gravity, but Neyland said that of all the sculptures he’s done over the years, a few stand out.
“One was the puppy looking at its reflection in the mirror that was called ‘Discovery’ in 2006,” he said. “That won the gold medal here in Breckenridge; that was one of my favorites for two reasons: one for the technical aspect. The entire sculpture depended upon having a picture frame that separated the two dog figures so it completed the illusion of it being a mirror, and what that meant was we had to be able to have a 12-foot horizontal top piece to the picture frame and if that fell or broke, the entire thing was in the toilet. That was probably the most nerve-wracking and nervous part of the whole thing.”
Neyland’s team only had one shot to get it right and make it stick. The finished piece was technically impressive — a leap for the art form, he said. It also showed the types of things that could be done with snow sculpture in Breckenridge that couldn’t be accomplished anywhere else, due to the ski resort providing snow with the proper moisture level, purity, strength and density.
“It’s straight as a string, and it’s completely made out of snow, and it’s completely unsupported,” he said of the picture frame sculpture. “That was extraordinary to be able to pull that off.”
Neyland said it was also exciting to create an environment where the viewer was a part of the sculptural moment.
“Using the mirror image dogs, one on either side of this frame that we made, it made the viewer complete the picture in their mind,” he said.
The sculptor’s second-favorite sculpture was titled “The Dance” and was constructed in 1998. An enlarged, framed photo of the piece resides in Neyland’s house.
“A man and a woman’s hand, as they step out onto the dance floor, the micro second before you take the love of your life into your arms for the very first time, just as your hands are about to touch,” he described the piece. “That was a very graceful, emotional and moving piece, and actually some folks were married in front of it, so that was a super cool one.”
Telling a story in snow
Another highlight for Neyland was the team’s entry for the 2004 competition.
“One of the ones that was probably the most moving piece that we did is the duck, if you will, or goose, whatever it is, that is landing on the surface of the water with its wings outstretched,” he said. “That piece is entitled ‘Coming Home.’”
The year before, in 2003, as teams were completing the sculptures on Saturday morning of the championships, the Columbia shuttle burned up in the atmosphere right over Colorado.
“When that happened, we said to each other, ‘Next year we are doing a sculpture that is a tribute to the astronauts that perished above our heads this morning.’ That’s what ‘Coming Home’ was all about, a tribute to the astronauts of the Columbia space shuttle,” Neyland said. “That was cool because that was one of the pieces that made people weep. They would come by and they would read the poem, or the little text if you will, that was associated with the sculpture, and dozens of people would burst into tears.
“And again, as I’m sure you know, any time you can reach into the heart of your audience and evoke a strong response, whether it be laughter or sadness or joy or angst or whatever, that’s when you’ve really performed your function as an artist.”