Thursday, July 2, 2020
Dad Passes Snow Sculpture Torch to Son
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The Sun Valley Sun has offered a popular photo op ever since the Sheehans started working on it last week.
   
Friday, December 27, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Sean Sheehan wasn’t even born when his father built the first of the iconic Sun Valley sun ice sculptures in front of the Sun Valley Lodge in 1986.

In fact, his Dad would build another 14 sculptures before Sean did make his debut into the world.

Sean has been a constant fixture at his Dad’s ice sculpting forays ever since. He became Mark Sheehan’s right-hand man a couple years ago, while still attending Wood River High School. And this year Mark Sheehan made a symbolic passing of the torch to his 18-year-old son.

 
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Even the dark side of the Sun stood out on Christmas Eve.
 

“Thirty-three years is enough. I should be thinking of retiring,” said Mark Sheehan. “And, having had a shoulder replacement earlier this year and a bad back, it feels pretty good to point to things and tell him what to do. I must admit, however, my fingers are getting tired pointing.”

The Sheehans took up arms—a chainsaw, slush bucket, homemade hole saw and other tools of the trade—last Thursday and went to work carving out an ice block that Sun Valley’s groundskeepers had made by boot packing enough snow to fill a 10-by-12-foot wooden form. The groundskeepers then added water and allowed it to freeze solid.

By Friday afternoon the Sheehans had all but finished the side of the 12-foot sun facing the lodge. They needed only to come back the next day to finish the side facing the pond where swans and geese paddled around to the delight of incoming Christmas guests.

“Everybody else puts up a Christmas tree. We put up a sun,” said Mark Sheehan.

 
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Over the years Mark Sheehan, left, has built a four-foot diameter snowflake, a Union Pacific train with a slide, an old woman who lived in a ski boot and a ‘40s vintage skier for Sun Valley Resort.
 

Mark Sheehan was a metalsmith making fire screens and light fixtures when he got the commission to do a snow sculpture to mark Sun Valley Resort’s 50th anniversary. He had never done a snow sculpture before.

“Then it was me, myself and I and I had not a clue—it took me the entire week to do it. I’ve learned a lot  over the years—like how you have to provide high relief to the eyes and cheeks so they don’t disappear in flat light,” he said.

Father and son start work early in the morning when the temperatures are in single digits or the teens, relying on hot steaming cups of coffee to stay warm.

It doesn’t help that the chainsaw sprays them with snow, getting them wet as it melts.

 
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Sean Sheehan works on a nose that is twice as big as his own face.
 

“It doesn’t matter how much Gore-Tex you’ve got on—with the hard work and exercise you get sweaty and wet,” said Mark Sheehan.

This year’s carving temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s were downright tropical compared with some years.

“The weather gods have been kind,” said Mark Sheehan. “We had that little cold snap where the temperature dipped to minus-7 when they packed the snow. And it ‘s been nice ever since.”

 The years have become a blur, although Mark Sheehan will never forget his first year. He was nearly done with the sculpture when he packed up one evening to go home. The next day he learned there had been an accident.

 
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This year’s sun is a cheeky guy.
 

Someone had left their 15-year-old son in the car as they were checking into the lodge. The boy saw the sun and climbed up on the stairs that Mark had built as a work platform. The boy then climbed up on one of the 10-foot sun rays, causing it to break off and send him spilling.

 “I think he broke his femur before his family ever hit the ski mountain,” Mark Sheehan said. “That’s why I always make sure to tourist proof it, shaving the stairs down when I’m finished.”

Mark Sheehan is delighted to see his son take an interest in his work, although he confesses he will be back next year to assist his son.

“For the longest time, he didn’t want to go out to the garage where my shop is because he might get dirty.”

In contrast, Sean Sheehan has fond memories of accompanying his Dad on the snow sculpting expeditions.

“I remember playing with the hose to make slush for the sculpture, then pushing the blocks of snow that we didn’t use into the pond. That was so fun,” said Sean Sheehan. “It was like, ‘Oh, wow! Dad’s doing his cool sculpture again. I get to go to Sun Valley and hang out!”

Mark Sheehan handed his son his first paycheck for his work on the sculpture two years ago. It was more than the boy had ever made in his life—he didn’t know what to do with it.

Though Sean Sheehan’s first love is theater arts, he is excited to carry on.

“I’m incredibly excited to be involved in this incredible legacy. My Dad taught me well—what can I say?”

Sean Sheehan does have a gift for art—or, at least, a knack for it--given the fact that his Dad stuffed Crayons between his chubby little toddler hands as soon as he could grasp them. He especially enjoys doing computer art, for which he has won awards.

He claims, however, that he is not a sculptor, despite having taken ceramics in high school.

“The hardest part with something this big is always having to take a step back and check it out. It looks fine when you’re up close, then you realize all the little things you need to do when you step back. Plus, lifting the chain saw as much as I have—I realize I’m out of shape.”

 

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