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Let it snow, let it snow

Mike Martino is really, really hoping for snow.

A sculptor known for working in snow and sand as well as in bronze, wood and plaster, Martino is scheduled to make his debut appearance Dec. 8 at the Anderson Center's Holiday Celebration of the Arts.

If enough snow falls to fill a refrigerator box, the La Crosse, Wis., artist will be at Tower View on Dec. 7 packing the box to create a solid block of snow. On Dec. 8 he'll transform it into a work of art while people watch.

Martino has decades of experience in the wintry art. A member of the Wisconsin team, he has competed in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition and taken first place twice.

He and his teammates, Tom Queoff and Mike Sponholtz -- fellow University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art grads -- have been carving together since 1986.

They have traveled to New Zealand, Japan and Sweden to carve snow, and won first-place honors at competitions in Russia and Finland. Several years ago he was part of a St. Paul Winter Carnival team that created a slide.

An art educator as well as an artist working out of his Martino Studio, he came to the Anderson Center with the La Crosse (Wis.) Arts Board, which made the trip to study how the artist community works.

Later, Martino mentioned his snow sculpting skills to Anderson Center Director Robert Hedin -- who invited him to be part of the Holiday Celebration of the Arts.

"It's a tricky thing to do it early in the season," Martino said. Snow is not guaranteed, and warm temperatures wreak havoc on anything made of it.

Which leads to the question people most often ask of him: Why does an artist want to work in such a temporary medium?

"I get more exposure from one day" carving snow than from having more permanent works on display in galleries or shows, Martino said.

Beyond that, he likes the fact that snow and sand sculptures "capture a moment in time." He likes creating something that is affected by many variables, including nature's whims.

"It's a more human scale," he explained.

"The enjoyment is doing it," Martino said -- being out in the weather, traveling, meeting carvers from all over the world, and being part of a team working toward a shared accomplishment.

Because he'll be working solo at the Anderson Center, Martino hopes to create a single sculpture that's roughly the size of a refrigerator at 5 to 6 feet high, 3 feet wide and thick.

But only if it snows. Oh, let it snow, let it snow ... .