Peter Hermann is an intelligent man with a playful sense of humor and a wide streak of creative genius. His muse: Snow.
A self-described country boy, the award-winning snow sculptor grew up in the small town of Vohrenbach, Germany, in the shadow of the Black Forest, the setting of many Grimm fairy tales. In the winter, he and his brothers shaped the plentiful snow into forts and caves.
“Snow wasn’t a nuisance, it was fun,” Hermann says with a smile. “When I came to the States, I was amazed when people complained. I look at snow as free art material.”
In the late 1990s, an announcement for the U.S. National Snowsculpting Competition in Lake Geneva caught his attention. The giant blocks of snow-10 feet high and 6 feet wide-captivated him.
“I said ‘whatever planet this is, this is my world,'” Hermann remembers.
Hermann, the carpenter at Oak Park and River Forest High School for the past 20 years, began to travel, sometimes as far away as Colorado, to observe competitions. He did his first snow sculpture, a Nativity scene, on the front lawn of his church in 1999, finishing minutes before people arrived for Christmas Eve service. The following year, he and two teammates entered their first competition in Rockford and won third place. It was the first of many competitions and awards to come.
Creating works of art from snow is more involved than people realize. After an idea takes shape in his mind, Hermann builds a clay form to scale. The clay models alone can take 50 to 100 hours to make.
At the competitions, snow is packed down in large forms built of plywood until it is almost as hard as ice. Only hand tools are allowed; Hermann uses a 5-foot lumberjack saw, small chisels and even sandpaper over the three-day competitions.
“It’s totally unpredictable,” he says. “You never know what you are going to face.”
People sometimes wonder if it bothers Hermann to put so much effort into creating a beautiful work of art that will melt under the first warm sun.
It’s OK, he says with a smile. This way he doesn’t have to figure out how to store it.