‘I am having the time of my life’
Peter Vogelaar’s father once had dreams of his son following in his footsteps in the construction business. Peter eventually did start building things for a living — snow, ice and sand sculptures.
These are of such exquisitely detailed design that he and his team members are ranked among the top artists in their field in the world.
“I have the opportunity to speak to schools from time to time,” he says. “I like to emphasize that I never envisioned becoming a professional snow and ice sculptor, but just kept following my passion. Each year new opportunities arose, and I am having the time of my life.”
Peter’s parents emigrated separately from the Netherlands in the late 1940s – Dad from Warmenhuizen and Mom from St Jacobi Parochi — and met each other in Banff, Alberta. After their marriage, they moved to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Peter, the eldest of three sons, was born there in 1953.
“I was fortunate to get exposed to art as a youngster,” he says, ”and immediately found that I loved to draw and paint. After high school, I was on a trip to Europe, trying to decide what to do with my life, and realized that I was happiest when I was drawing the people around me.”
He studied art for three years at the Kootenay School of Art in Nelson in southeastern British Columbia. Following that, he worked as a labourer before ending up in a small sign shop in Fort St. John. He started his own sign business a few months later.
“It was a great place for a young entrepreneur,” he says, “but after twelve years, I yearned to be doing more creative things. I was able to sell my business and moved to the Slocan Valley near Nelson.”
Peter and his wife, Lesley Mayfield, contentedly dabbled in artistic endeavours. Then, in 1992, they heard about the British Columbia Snow Sculpting Contest in nearby Vernon which offered as first prize a free trip to carve at the Quebec Winter Carnival. Although total novices, they readily took up the challenge and won their first People’s Choice award for their depiction of a polar bear stalking an Inuit hunter.
“In the first years, we were content to do one sculpture each winter in Vernon, and eventually won there in 1996,” he says. “Along the way, an old friend from art school had joined our team, and we were gradually improving our skills too. At the 1997 Quebec contest, our team won all the awards, an unprecedented feat at the national event.”
Peter learned that he and his colleagues could apply to be the Canadian team for the next Winter Olympics to be held in Nagano, Japan. There was one
stipulation: they would have to raise their own money for expenses. That occupied much of their time after being selected.
“For some reason, there is little prize money snow sculpting, and rarely even travel money,” says Peter. “It seems that most artists are just happy to get the opportunity to build a massive sculpture in a few days. We should learn to get paid for our creativity instead of giving it away so cheerfully.”
At the Olympics, Peter’s team sculpted a piece on literacy named Imagination Takes Flight and was awarded with an honourable mention as well as
the admiration of many visitors. The team members sold more than $1,000 worth of lapel pins and souvenirs while standing in front of the finished work. This money enabled them to extend their visit and tour Japan by train.
In 2000 Peter was approached by Inaxi, a Dutch company which creates themed exhibits from sand, snow and ice and then invites the public view its
shows for an admission fee. Before long, Peter was on board. His first project was in Brugge, Belgium.
“I have since worked on eight other projects in Europe,” he says. ”These opportunities also introduced me to the world of ice carving. One of the American sculptors we met there later hired me to carve a large project at the Salt Lake City Olympics.”
In 2003 he carved in seven different countries on three continents. With commissioned works interspersed with contests, he was able to find enough money to pay for all the travelling.
The winter of 2004-05 was a memorable one for Peter.
First, he and his team went to the Quebec Winter Carnival and earned the right to represent Canada in the Winter Olympics in Italy in 2006. From the
original eight-foot tall snowblock, the artists created an eighteen-foot snowflake archway. Their work was rewarded with the Canadian championship and the People’s Choice and Volunteers’ Choice awards.
Next, they took part in the first annual Jack Frost Children’s Winterfest in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, building a snow and ice castle that
featured a giant dragon slide on the back, a 3,600-square-foot snow maze and a snow mini-golf course. It was the hit of the show.
Lesley is no longer a member of the team, preferring to stay home during the winter to concentrate on her own art: magnificent fabric wall hangings.
But other local artists have joined.
“I was invited in 2003 to represent British Columbia at a national sand sculpting contest in Ottawa,” says Peter. “None of my team were available, so I called a local young man, David Ducharme, who had expressed interest in working with me. Even though it was only my second sand sculpture, we won second prize. Two months later, David and I won the World Sand Sculpture Championships in Harrison, B.C. Needless to say, he is now a member of our team.”
Peter likes working for Inaxi for a number of reasons: the freedom the company allows for individual creativity, the chance for him to sculpt with artists from other countries — “it is always inspirational to see what comes out of joint efforts” — and the trips that he can take through the country he has grown to love.
“My mother is from Friesland, and I have enjoyed many visits to that beautiful province,” he says. “My Pake and Beppe (Grandfather and Grandmother) lived in the tiny village of St Jacobi Parochi, close to St Anna Parochi where Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia, came from.”