During Fur Rendezvous, Brian Nosich transforms from a mild-mannered father of two into a master craftsman for the ages.
“I draw my inspiration from Bernini and Michelangelo,” said Nosich — his tongue firmly in cheek — as he sculpted an 8-foot block of snow on Feb. 22 in downtown Anchorage.
Nosich readily admits he’s no Michelangelo. In four previous years of competing in the Fur Rondy’s snow sculpture contest, he’d never won first place, and the ideas for his sculptures are more borrowed than Baroque.
“I’m a huge plagiarist,” he said, saying he gets most of his ideas from Mother Nature.
Unlike others in the annual contest, he said he doesn’t sketch his designs, nor does he paint complex guides on his preformed snow block. Instead, he simply lets each sculpture come to life by chipping away at the snow and seeing what happens.
“You’ve just gotta uncover him,” he said while working on this year’s creation, a sea otter.
Nosich, 32, has no formal training, and the contest is the only time of year the 1999 Chugiak grad who was born and raised in Eagle River lets his artistic side through. But it’s something he’s developed a knack for, as evidenced by the otter’s fine, fuzzy details and cuddly features that emerged as he carved.
Turning a frozen block of snow into a work of art is no easy feat. In past years, Nosich and a pair of teammates spent around 80 hours chipping, chiseling and shaving the snow into creations like last year’s breaching humpback whale. This year, the Alaska Air National Guardsman worked alone — a decision that presented some challenges.
“It’s fun, but it’s a lot of hard work,” he said, saying the otter would likely take about 40 hours of work to complete.
Despite temperatures in the teens, Nosich said he doesn’t have to dress for the cold.
“You can’t wear a coat,” he said, using a flat-headed shovel to flesh out a pair of furry feet.
Because the blocks of snow are rock-hard, he said most of the work is done by brute force.
“The most effective tool for me is a flathead shovel,” he said.
Once his sculpture takes on its basic form, Nosich then goes in and fine-tunes the artwork using chisels and a pet hair remover. While the blunt work is the most labor-intensive, he said the details take the most time.
“That’s probably 70 percent of the work,” he said.
Because he’s got a full-time job and two young children, Nosich does most of his work at night. But with a steady stream of onlookers walking past to admire his work, he said he never gets lonely. And the contest’s location — near the railroad yards at Ship Creek downtown — gives him an ideal location from which to watch the Rondy fireworks.
“I’ve got the best view around,” he said.
Nosich frequently takes time to stop and look at his sculpture before returning to work. Sometimes an errant chip will send the artwork in a direction he didn’t intend, and his task is to then decide how to reshape the snow. Sometimes he’ll walk circles around the sculpture, listening to his iPod (NPR podcasts are a favorite) before returning to the task at hand.
“It depends on how stuck you get,” he said.
Nosich said he grew up attending Anchorage’s wintertime carnival, and the snow sculpture contest was always what he looked forward to most.
“This was always my favorite part of Fur Rondy,” he said.
The trick to sculpture, he said, is a good attitude and letting the art come to life on its own.
“You’ve gotta roll with the punches,” he said.
Now a seasoned veteran of the event, he said he plans to continue his once-a-year sculpting tradition as long as he’s able.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” he said.
After 40 hours of work, Nosich’s otter was complete and ready to be judged in the individual competition. While he might not be Michelangelo, according to the judges, he’s not bad, either. Their verdict for his chilly, cuddly creation: First place.