Saskatoon ice carver plans to hang up the chisel after 50 years
Shards of ice shot through the air as Don Greer punched « bullet holes » in the side of Snoopy’s doghouse.
It was a finishing touch to his front yard ice sculpture of fighter pilot Red Baron chasing the cartoon dog-turned-aviator.
He hopes that people who pass by the room will increase in power Snoopy’s Christmas by the royal guards.
« It captures the spirit that was behind it all, hearing that music – it’s still in my ear, » he said, spouting out the lyrics.
Listen to the song that inspired Greer’s latest track:
The retired architect has just celebrated his 70th birthday. He has been installing ice sculptures in Saskatoon for five decades.
The Snoopy Stage is Greer’s penultimate sculpture, with only one more planned for an upcoming festival.
« Sometimes you have to say you’ve done enough, » he said.
« It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss it. »
It all started in 1971, when Greer was fresh out of high school. He was helping his father put together the Christmas decorations. They used snow and ice to create a castle, with Santa Claus and reindeer above.
But a critical element was missing from the scene.
He pulled some chicken wire from the basement, smashed it into a seven-foot pole, and put red lights inside before icing it.
« It was the North Pole. »
Much of his work since then has featured traditional nativity scenes. For the Snoopy play, he was inspired by the song and thought the kids who use the park across the street might like it too.
This year he also crafted pieces at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection – a 15-foot angel, sheep and shepherds – and at St. Paul’s Cathedral – a vast nativity scene.
Greer, a retired architect, first develops his ideas in his mind. Then he draws them, calculates the dimensions before tinkering with wood and wire mesh in his detached garage.
« I can see the picture in the thread, » he said. « When a sculptor looks at the medium he is working with, he sees the image in what he is trying to do before he even puts a chisel on it. »
Once the frame is complete, he sets it up outside, then waits for freezing temperatures so he can soak it in water – forming the ice structure.
Greer said the best part of the process was hearing how people appreciate her work.
« That’s what makes it all interesting, when people come up to say hello and tell you how much they love the job, » he said. « When it’s melted, it’s gone. I have these memories of people. »
Don Meister, a member of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and friend of Greer, said the carvings had brought joy to the community.
One winter, Meister noticed that Greer was preparing his sculpture alone in the cold, without help.
« I offered to help out and we quickly became friends, » Meister said, adding that he quickly realized how passionate Greer was about the hobby.
« It was almost an obsession for him and I think it’s going to be really hard for him to stop. »
But Meister said he understands why now is the time for Greer to move on.
« None of us are younger. In fact, Don, at 70, is a year younger than me, » he said.
The work can be dangerous, requiring long hours of work in appallingly cold conditions. For some taller pieces, Greer uses a ladder wedged into icy terrain.
« It’s a smart move on his part, but oh my god his work will be missed, » Meister said.
Greer’s latest piece is scheduled for Saskatoon’s upcoming Nutiren Wintershines festival.
After that, he hopes to start coaching curling again, moving from track to track.
« My plan is to put away the scissors and hang up the pipes. »