Cathy Thompson said that when she and her daughter Amanda Bolduc began ice sculpting a year ago, their learning curve was quite steep.

“We didn’t know how to start,” Thompson, who lives in Madison, said. “We didn’t realize that we had to get a big box and pack snow into it. Then I raided my husband’s tool shop looking for saws and blades, anything that might look like it would cut away snow.”

Her daughter checked out YouTube videos, talked with other artists and finally headed to a local antique shop. Both had art backgrounds and had done sand-sculpting, but their snow-sculpture careers began when they were invited to participate in a competition in Camden.

“I purchased some chisels and some old ice tools that you can’t just find at a local hardware store or Wal-Mart,” Bolduc said.

A year after that humble start — and in only their second attempt at creating a snow sculpture in a competition — they joined Paul Warren of Massachusetts and took fifth place in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championships, which were held last week in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The duo earned the right to participate as “Team Maine” a year ago, during their first foray into ice sculpting at Camden’s Winterfest. While two-person teams compete at Camden, the nationals allow three-person teams to participate, so they invited Warren, who originally told Bolduc about the Maine event.

In Wisconsin, they brainstormed a sculpture of a human head with a man holding his hands to the sides of his mouth, yelling. In front of his mouth lies a wolf, and the back of its head is cracked, with sheep lurking in the shadows.

The sculpture was called “Crying Wolf,” subtitled “Sheep for Brains.”

Although neither Thompson nor Bolduc had much experience with snow sculpture, each is an artist in her own right.

Bolduc is an art teacher for a homeschool co-op in Madison and competes regularly in sand sculpture contests in Fort Myers, Florida. In 2014, she was the Florida state champ in the advanced amateur class, she said.

Thompson was artistic as a child but gave up her art during a 25-year career working at a paper mill. Since her retirement, she has returned to painting and has done sand sculpture with Bolduc.

Thompson came up with the original plan, which called for a wolf lying in the man’s mouth. The final concept was a collaborative effort, she said.

One telling moment came when they shared a shuttle from the airport with an artist from Alaska. He told the Maine crew his team planned to hollow out a portion of their sculpture. That prompted some brainstorming.

“We decided we were going to have to step up the game,” Thompson said. “We thought about what else we could add to it for creativity and technical difficulty. Our idea was to make the back of the head look like it was cracked open with sheep pouring out of his brains.”

The idea paid off. Although only the grand champion and two people’s choice awards were announced during the competition, the team asked organizers if they could look at the score sheets and learned their sculpture had received the fifth-highest score out of 15 entrants.

Bolduc said the team didn’t enter the competition with any goals and was surprised they fared so well.

“I was surprised because we were competing against these teams that had been going there for years and years and years,” Bolduc said. “This was only our second snow competition. With our lack of experience, we took away so much from going out there.”

Each team began the competition with a cylinder of packed snow that was 8 feet wide and 9 feet tall. They began sculpting Wednesday and were required to finish by 11 a.m. Saturday.

“It was extremely cold,” Bolduc said. “Then, Friday night, we almost didn’t even go to bed. We sculpted from 7 a.m. Friday until 11 a.m. Saturday and took just four hours off.”

While working, they had the opportunity to watch a national news event take place: Their sculpture site was just across the street from Lake Geneva, where several cars sank into the ice.

“We watched the cars sink, and we watched the recovery effort,” Thompson said. “On Facebook, we posted a picture of our sculpture. Somebody said, ‘You know what [the sculpture] is yelling? He’s yelling to the cars across the street: Don’t park on the ice!’”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...