CHARLESTON -- Jessica Mertz, Shannon Brinkmeyer-Johnson and Jacqui Worden had little to no experience with snow sculpting in their artistic careers.
Mertz's specialty was with paintings and Worden's focus was ceramics. Brinkmeyer-Johnson's specialty ranged across 2D and 3D art and she only had some experience when she was a child in upstate New York with snow sculptures.
But when a message inviting people to participate in the Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition at Sinnissippi Park in Rockford came across their emails, they leapt at the chance to try and, in doing so, won the Pat Hayes Parks Committee's Choice Award and became the first ones from Charleston to participate in the competition's 32 years, according to Mertz.
Mertz said they were simply crazy enough to take it on.
"You underestimate the egos of artists," she said.
"I just wanted to play in the snow," Worden said of her interest in the project.
Worden initially suggested the idea to the others, and within a short time, all three were on board as the team, "Ice Squared," with a vision of sculpting the personification of Mother Earth and the storyteller.
According to a press release, the sculpture represented a traditional Native American storytelling doll that was sharing with the children of the world the importance of the earth and its creatures and bounty.
Worden said they thought it would be interesting as a team of women to offer a sculpture that evokes the importance of the female role and the environment.
The team, along with other competitors, had three days to turn a 10-foot by 6 foot by 6-foot block of snow into a piece of art.
They had a grand plan that included multiple children atop the storyteller base. With no saws, power tools or scaffolding, and uncooperative weather, the three learned quickly that their vision would have to be tweaked.
Mertz said the block of snow over the course of three days was more an ice block.
"It heated up a lot, then refroze, then thawed, and then refroze," Mertz said. "The top 10 inches (of the snow block) were just ice."
Mertz noted that many returning competitors said it was the hardest block they experienced.
The Charleston team simply had a few hatchets, hammers, ice picks, spades, and an ice auger to tear into the beast of a slab of the snow-ice mixture. Mertz noted it still looked like a block of snow by the end of Day 2.
"The first day...I kind of felt like I was just flinging my body against the ice just trying to make it work," she said.
Brinkmeyer-Johnson noted there was a lot of athletic ability needed for the competition simply because of the ice they had to tackle.
Competitors were helpful, though, lending equipment and food to them while they worked. And after roughly 138 hours between the three of them, "Mother Nature, Storyteller" was made, featuring a large female figure surrounded and covered by corn, three children, a polar bear cub and a penguin.
The experience left them tired and cold, but not broken.
"You get what you get and you don't make a fit," Mertz said of the experience.
And, the three local residents have already started planning for their next attempt in the competition. Brinkmeyer-Johnson noted this includes hitting the gym in preparation for a shell of ice like last time.
Next time, they plan to return hardened and ready for the challenges that the competition, or more accurately the weather, will throw at them.