head for International Community Ice Art Exhibit_Curatorial Notes
Patricia Leguen ice sculpture “Wascana.” For Ice Alaska event, photo by Patrick J. Endres at AlaskaPhotoGraphics.

“Wascana,” meaning “pile of bones,” in Cree; by Patrica Leguen, Ulli Meng, Berry Nishkian and Marianne Stolz for World Ice Art Championships, 1996.
Photo by Patrick J. Endres AlaskaPhotoGraphics

Patricia Leguen

The idea behind this piece started after a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Fort MacLeod, in Alberta in the summer of 1994, a Unesco heritage site. They have an interpretive centre there and I watched a short film in black and white of British travellers shooting buffalo for fun off the train in the 1880s in the Prairies. I was shocked to see all these carcasses left to rot and all these bones. I was very moved and I knew I had to do my own piles of bones. I bought a book that had photos of these piles too. I came home and I borrowed a skull from a friend and bones and took photos of it. I made a maquette in plasticine from it, had it cast in bronze and went to a snow sculpture competition in Italy in January 1995 in northern Italy (there is a picture on my website. I wanted to make a much bigger pile and with 36,000 lbs of ice at Ice Alaska, it was the perfect opportunity.

It was my way of paying tribute to the millions of buffalo slaughtered during that time. No one knows exactly how many millions were killed. The slaughter of the buffalo was also a tactic to starve the Indians and it worked. The wolf population also declined as they used to feed on the leftovers that the Indians did not use for clothing, food and shelter.

The sculpture’s name, Wascana, means piles of bones in Cree. There were 48 huge buffalo skulls piled up with the railway tracks in front of the piece in ice the same way these bones were piled in the 1880s near Regina, waiting to be shipped to Detroit to be crushed and used as fertilizer. It was a tribute to the millions of buffalo killed during that time. I love buffalo and I have done several sculptures of them in snow, ice, sand and fire. I have been to see them up close several times in my travels in various national parks in North America, mostly on my motorcycle in the summer. I have all kinds of books at home on buffalo, North American Indian life and history, etc. that I use in my research for my sculptures.

1996 was my first time at Ice Alaska and I came with another female sculptor and friend from Vancouver Island, Ulli Meng. We studied sculpture together at the University of Saskatchewan in the early 80s. She had never carved ice before, so we did a competition in Anchorage first at the end of February with 3 4 ft square block, for practice right before Fairbanks. I had done one competition on December 27 but with 3 commercial blocks, 300 lbs each. I bought my first chainsaw for Christmas and a set of ice chisels.

We were the first Canadians competing there. We first carved a piece in the single block event, a life-size buffalo called The Spirit of the White Buffalo in 3 days from an 8 x 5 x 3 ft solid block of ice. We had to rent a chainsaw with a 48 inches bar on it. I had my 14 inch bar chainsaw for smaller cuts, and a set of various ice chisels. I even borrowed a set of ice chisels from a chef in Saskatoon and a special ice saw.

We had 12 4 ft x 4ft x 4ft blocks of clear blue ice to work with over a period off 5 days. We worked 13 hours a day. It is a lot of ice to carve!

For the multi-block, we had to find two teammates, because the organizer told us there was no way the two of us could do it. So we asked around and found one woman, a German wood carver who just moved to Fairbanks, Marianne Stolz, and an ice caver from California, Berry Nishkian to work with us. Berry loved the idea of the sculpture but Marianne, not too much, when she saw my sketch. Her boyfriend had a buffalo skull at home and she brought it everyday so we could hang it from a tree in our plot.

First, we cut each block in half and made complete skulls, sets of horns and bones from them to give the illusion of having 48 skulls. I counted all the sets of horns at the end. I put a tombstone in front of the railway track with a black and white laminated archive photo of an actual pile of bones over 20 ft high that I inserted inside the block of ice with an explanation of the sculpture so the public could read it.

When we all did this piece, the team came together spontaneously. Patricia and Ulli were already a team, I was solo and Mariana lived locally. I loved the piece right away. I am a professional chef and had gone to the championships because of my love for ice. I am not very competitive. As the work was laid out I did most of the chainsaw roughing out before the final carving. I remember doing something like 75 heads. In the beginning there were blocks laid out for a rough shape. The detail and placing of the heads was supervised by Patricia and a good time we all had, for sure. We were blessed with sunny but very cold days. The spirit of the buffalo in the picture is pure spirit, we never did carve a buffalo body.

The crowd was always appreciative. A teacher commented to me the next year how the kids remembered our piece and how it had impacted them. When we were almost finished someone in the crowd started talking about how the railroads had passed out guns to shoot the passing herds. I had been wrestling with what to create as a stanchion of sort, as required by the rules. When I heard this about the railroads, I knew we had to lay down some railroad tracks as stanchions. Everybody liked the idea, so that’s what we did. The 1905 picture of a man standing on a mountain of skulls was in Chicago. The buffalo was down to 5000, the story told. —Patricia Leguen

When we got the silver medal I think we were all surprised. Since then I went back to Fairbanks two more years. I had good fun always and I was able to work with Patricia one more time on the “Musk Ox Ring.” Because of tired wrists I have had to give up competitive carving, but I have been carving full size carousel animals in the old style (totally useable). It’s fun and I can come back to it whenever, no melting. I also have a hybrid car I have built that I am making the clay study for the body right now. The body will be in carbon fiber. I am retired from the kitchen but as you can see I have no lack of mediums to work with.
—Berry Nishkian, photographer and teammate on this sculpture


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