Giant Potsdam ice sculptures gone; skills not passed down
By MAUREEN PICHÉ
POTSDAM – Construction of giant snow sculptures, a beloved Potsdam tradition, appears to be a thing of the past thanks to unpredictable winters and lack of student interest at the two colleges that once competed to build the best.For years, everything from full-size cars, to two-story dinosaurs, to World War II tributes was constructed from ice and snow. Often, they were lit for nighttime viewing throughout the village.
“For a kid growing up in Potsdam, one of the highlights of winter was to have your parents load up all the kids in the car and drive around at night to see them lit up,” said Mimi Van Deusen, village historian. “They were spectacular at night—like Christmas lights, only better.”
But the sculptures have disappeared from the winter landscape over the past decade.
“It seems to be a lost skill,” said Michael Griffin, Clarkson University spokesperson. “We had a few years of bad weather, and the students couldn’t build them. Then, there was a lack of interest for a few years and the talent died out. The skills weren’t passed on.”
Clarkson University and SUNY Potsdam Greek organizations first began the tradition as part of the annual Ice Carnival, which was started in 1931 as a cooperative effort between the two schools.
Fraternities and sororities would create the sculptures in front of their houses, maps would be distributed, and prizes would be awarded to the best executed and most imaginative.
Van Deusen said she also enjoyed watching the daily progression of the sculptures from mounds of snow and ice, maybe some chicken wire or plywood for structure, molded and chiseled into pieces of art as she road past them on her way to school.
“It was a great tradition. I really miss it,” she said.
All that remains are the photographs, and there are plenty of them in the Clarkson archives and at the Potsdam Public Museum.
In fact, the museum currently has an exhibit featuring photos from ice carnivals of yore, “Ice Cold Potsdam: Ice Harvesting, Ice Hockey & Ice Carnivals, Ice Storms,” running through March 15.