Category Archives: Snow

Ladysmith Black Mombazo

I was listening to an interesting story on NPR this morning about America’s first elephant. It came from the creator of The Memory Palace. I thought it reminded me greatly of This American Life and The Moth both sites devoted to story telling. That is what the historian in me is drawn to……stories.

While I was sculpting yesterday I had occasion to tell a story to tell one to one of the passerbys who mentioned that she had brought the famed South African Musical group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, past my house on their winter visit to Duluth a few years ago.

Sorry, this story will have to wait until after church and after I finish emptying my attic for tomorrow’s beginning of its metamorphosis into my new office.

I asked the passerby if she had taken the choir out to take a picture by my sculpture and she said I had to be kidding. There was no way these Africans were going to get out in our cold but she said they were impressed with the sculpture. She couldn’t recall which sculpture it was. I told her I had gone to this performance at Sacred Heart Church myself. I had to because of one particular family story but it didn’t hurt that Sacred Heart is Dr. Ahs’s baby. We stayed at his Danish summer home one year a decade ago and he is also, coincidentally, the expert in a malady which once nearly killed Claudia. I’d told the story about Ladysmith, South Africa, to my daughter when she was just in kindergarten and as a result she named her first gold fish “Ladysmith.”

I’ve apparently mentioned my Mother’s paternal Grandfather Thomas Robb three times in Lincolndemocrat. As a twelve year old boy he sailed with his family from Ireland to settle in the United States. As his ship approached New York Harbor in 1860 on his voyage another ship passed them heading out of the harbor. It was hailed with the question asking for the latest news. “South Carolina has just seceded from the Union” was the reply.

Thomas grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young married man made up his mind to start a farm near the railroad by Salina, Kansas. He was a poor farmer but he was a lover of Great Britain. He subscribed to the London Times which was delivered and devoured by his family in the middle of the Kansas nowhere that you will remember from the Wizard of Oz.

In 1900 England got mired in South Africa fighting the Boers. The Boer War is often called Britain version of America’s Vietnam. The family got particularly enraptured with the stories about a small town with a British unit in it that was surrounded by the Boers who laid siege to the town. The Times coverage of events was breathless and the family waited for each new London Times and the latest report on the siege steadfastly cheering the British on. During the siege their milk cow had a calf which the family named Ladysmith in honor of the defense of the City.

One day as the the siege went on their father took a short trip away from the farm. When he returned all of his children rushed out to greet him crying “Ladysmith has fallen, Ladysmith has fallen.” Thomas Robb was furious. The Boers had bested the brave British and he was not to be mollified. Suddenly all the children burst out laughing. Ladysmith the calf had fallen into the pit the family stored their winter ice in to keep their food from spoiling through the summer.

BTW – I took a pilgrimage to my Great Grandfather’s home in Assaria, Kansas eleven years ago and took pictures of what remained of the homestead. This uninspired root cellar may have been Ladysmith’s landing pad.

Old Man Winter

My Sweetie took a picture of me for her Facebook page while I worked diligently down at the corner of the lake, I think that’s what they call it, on a sculpture of Old Man Winter for Destination Duluth. I kept up my usual routine of keeping the final product’s identity a secret not knowing that it had already been outed in the Tribune.

Until about the last hour of sculpting it was still pretty much a blob and all anyone could identify was a nose. I was relieved that it all worked out in the end……after the sun had disappeared behind Enger Tower.

No miracles for this snow sculptor

What promised to begin as a good snow sculpting season hasn’t really materialized. We got a bit of snow before Thanksgiving but not enough. Besides that it was speckled with the leaves I didn’t get a chance to rake up first. I made a clay pilgrim and turkey as a model to speed up sculpting but no more snow arrived until Turkey day had come and gone.

I get occasional suggestions for what to sculpt which I only rarely decide to follow through on. Last Spring’s Wicked Witch of the West was such an example. Recently I got an email urging me to take on the School Board with some sort of parody or satire. I did that for several years running but I don’t have the heart to do that now. I quote Twain all the time but I also know that no one runs for the school board to do injury to children or schools. At the moment I’m looking for a holiday miracle to back away from a year’s worth of mayhem. Maybe I could pray for some decent snow while I’m at it.

A couple days ago I thought I’d like to emphasize a miracle in my snow sculpting. The problem was I couldn’t think of something miraculous to sculpt that would convey that message. I typed in “miracle” in my Google search to see what sort of images I could come up with. Of all the images that popped up only one seemed to me to be really miraculous but it didn’t lend itself to any good analogy with our School District or School Board. It was an image of an adult’s hands cupping an infant’s feet. I decided to Google that particular image and dozens of others popped up.

I printed out the best of the hands and feet images and scraped up the minuscule new snow that fell earlier in the week piling it around what was meant to be my Pilgrim and Turkey. This morning Claudia walked by the picture and couldn’t tell what the heck it was although it was sitting by a small pile of clay. The clay was the sure sign that I intended to sculpt the picture. Claudia, who doesn’t read my blog, had no idea what such an image was meant to convey. Later this morning when I began to mold hands and feet out of the clay she told me she wasn’t sure the image was such a good idea. She worried people wouldn’t be able to tell what it was. She even said it looked vaguely sexual which reminded me of Georgia Okeeffe’s paintings which were infamous for that quality.

This is what I had in mind:

I’ve got two good days of sculpting weather ahead of me and a small pile of snow. Anyone with any suggestions on some hopeful looking image please send me your ideas at:

I’m melting…

…and its about time!

Until the melt hit us I had no enthusiasm or inspiration to sculpt through the coldest sustained below zero temps in Duluth history. Then my buddy Frank suggested the Wicked Witch of the West. I had the snow piled up raring to go and I called my two grandsons to help paint her green.

More snow sculptures of mine here.

United Theological Seminary

An update.

Claudia really enjoyed her day at United. There were a wide variety of people enrolling. Hip Hop artists, former educators and about a third of the enrollees were African-American. The red tape wasn’t completed so she wasn’t assigned an adviser but that meant she got to come home early and escaped the Twin Cities’ rush hour. That meant we could watch the wonderful Doc Martin together at 7pm. We ordered sandwiches from Bulldog’s Pizza. I had a gyros.

Claudia is expecting that her class will take a lot of work. That will be great. It means she will pay less attention to my gallivanting around campaigning.

She said that all of the new students were gathered together and asked to tell something unusual about themselves to the group. She was the first so she mentioned that she was married to a snow sculptor. That got the attention of two of her new classmates who spend time in Duluth. One asked her if she lived on 21st Avenue. When Claudia said yes one of the women explained that she always looked for my snow sculptures when she was in Duluth. She said that she drove up the hill last December and saw my Sandyhook Angel and stopped below it and wept. I’ve heard that from others too. Heck, it made me cry. Up until I sculpted it I always took pleasure in knowing that my sculptures put a smile on most people’s faces. Its nice to know that I once reached beyond the smiles and touched some hearts.

My Book list swerves

I thought I had read more books than the recent post listed. At a book store this afternoon I saw yet another book that I finished this year, The Swerve. Its great. I’ve just added it to my lifetime reading list. I wonder if that list includes James Clavells “Shogan.” I just remembered reading that one too a few days ago. I read it back in the 1970’s. (Just checked. Shogan was included)

While I was updating the old website I also explained how this year’s snow sculpture got built. I’ve been explaining the process each year for those who wonder how they get done. I’d like to encourage others to try their hand at it. Each of my sculptures gets built in slightly different ways depending on the weather, the subject, the time available and the amount of snow.

And a few drivebys

To continue the last post’s ruminations I’ll mention that my yard gets noticed regularly each winter that I can put a snow sculpture together. Sometimes the vagaries of weather only leave me with a couple days of snow art. This year, for the first time in a few years, I’ve lucked into a sculpture that has lasted two weeks because of short cold days.

More than any other sculpture I felt compelled to make this one because of current events. Last year was so warm I was never able to freeze water in the ice bucket candle holders I bought. That was no problem this year and I’ve been able to set them out below my snow sculpture.

Twenty years ago a traffic engineer told me that over 20,000 cars were driving up and down my Avenue each day. Today I’d guess twice that many pairs of eyes go past. This means a lot more folks see my sculptures than read my scribblings. This year’s sculpture has touched a cord with people as never before.

Last night as I lit the 10 candles for the ice luminaries a school bus paused below us with the change of lights. Suddenly windows flew down and ten year old were giving me thumbs up and telling my work was awesome. It made me feel glad even though I’m several days past shedding tears. These stories, like my sculptures, have a short life span.

A couple days ago I read that a survey of reporters listed Sandy Hook as the top story of 2012. We all have a habit of ranking recent events all out of proportion to their real significance. In years to come Sandy Hook will fade in our memories and be eclipsed by Obama’s reelection following a two-year campaign. At least it will hold its primacy in the history books. Still, I’ll remember my latest sculpture with far more fondness than the much larger one I made of Obama two years ago. The heart has its own ranking system.

Letter to Mark Lanthier

Mark Lanthier, Duluth, Minnesota
What a hypocrite he is the one who did not want the children of Duluth to have safe schools. It is in the same yard that had sign that said no to safe school. Shame on you Harry!

Dear Mark,

I read your comments regarding my not caring about the safety of Duluth’s Children on a webpage with a picture of my recent snow sculpture. Your comment was bitter and unfair. What happened at Sandy Hook was a punch to my gut – all of our guts. Back when I served on the school board I visited dozens of kindergarten classes and brought my favorite books to read and a pair of gorilla slippers. I love little kids and I take my own kindergarten grandson to school every Wednesday. His picture would fit in perfectly with the twenty photos that the Duluth News Tribune recently put on its front page.

Your beef with me is over the Red Plan and my continuing complaint that Duluth didn’t get to vote on it and my well publicized suspicion that the Red Planners were repeatedly dishonest.

One of the many claims of the supporters of the Red Plan was that our schools were unsafe. To remedy this they intended to make it easier to monitor visitors. This was a worthy goal. However, it did not take 259 million dollars to install new doors and cameras to accomplish this.

One of the many requests of Red Plan critics was to scale back the plan and Dr. Dixon convinced the editors at the Duluth News Tribune that he had worked hard to make the critics happy. Not hardly. After feigning compromise the cost of Dixon’s Red Plan grew by an additional $56 million to 315 million.

Do you truly believe that our Red Plan schools are safer today than the old schools were ten years ago now that high school class sizes routinely hit 40 students? (It was a rare class that had 34 kids in it when I was on the School Board) How has the overcrowding affected safety?

I have a friend to teaches at one of our high schools and she is fearful and discouraged. With a much worse teacher to student ratio this is understandable. The loss of teachers is one legacy of the Red Plan although it was unintended. This should not have come as a surprise. Our District told the State we would finance the Red Plan in part by taking five million out of classroom spending to pay for the debt on the Red Plan. We told the state we could do this because the plan would save us money by, among other things, saving a million in energy spending each year (reduced square footage to heat and cool and clean) and two million in annual staff savings. They gambled and they lost. They have to pay off the bonds so teachers were cut to make the payments leaving us with 40 kids to a classroom. That has proven to be a safety concern.

This year we’ve had numerous stories in the Duluth News Tribune about hostilities between our two new high schools. They have also reported that Denfeld has witnessed a number of fights. The year before they often reported that there were fights at Woodland Middle School where the District moved kids in a willy nilly rush to accommodate a speeded up construction schedule.

Fathers and Mothers and children crave stability. The problems associated with the Red Plan have made families desperate to abandon the District. Student test results, to the extent that they mean anything, have gotten worse. Ah, but the schools are newer and shinier.

My top motivation was not fighting the Red Plan. It was fighting for our right to vote on it. I might have voted for it myself given the chance even though it was by far the biggest public school construction plan in the history of the State of Minnesota. My second motive was to insure that our taxes went first to people not bricks and mortar. As for safety, another high priority, that could have been accomplished at a fraction of the cost of the Red Plan.

I may not be through with the Duluth Schools, Mark, so I’d like you to take what I’ve written to heart before you repeat the accusation that I don’t care about our children’s safety.


Harry Welty, snow sculptor, teacher, grandfather

Re: the previous post.

I am flattered that the Duluth News Tribune has featured my snow sculpture for two days in a row. Below you will find the photo someone submitted for today’s paper. I’m always concerned about being uncharitable to those who would probably rather not have me keep biting their hand. I like, and have always liked, the folks at the Trib, even those, who began highlighting my quirkier qualities to my political detriment. I’ve got a very thick skin and I do have a sharp bite for unfair or poorly thought out criticism.

I don’t expect any mea culpa’s from anybody where the Red Plan is concerned although I think there are a lot of them that ought to be handed out. That helps explain why I writing my Red Plan posts a little like professional wrestlers employ submission holds.

I’ll keep baring my fangs when I feel sufficiently provoked but the Trib’s willingness to bury the hatchet somewhere other than my head is gratefully appreciated.

Sandy Hook on my mind

Tonight two women knocked on our front door and asked whether I would mind if they placed 26 red roses below the snow sculpture I finished working on tonight. I choked up a bit and told them I would be happy for them too do so but to watch their footing on the slippery loose snow I had carved off of my original pile of snow.

Nick Cooper from Townsquare Media stopped by and took a few pictures of me chiseling away then explained my work for the readers of several local radio stations he does work for.

Perfect Duluth Day also snapped a picture of it when I was at my five-year-old grandson’s kindergarten class yesterday helping make gingerbread houses.