SYCAMORE – If you visit the Sycamore Parkway Restaurant, Lynden W. Bute’s snow sculptures can be seen on display.
The snow sculptures won’t melt – they’re framed photos hanging on the wall. The sculptures are pictured throughout Sycamore – on the courthouse lawn, by the armory and by businesses, including the restaurant.
The pieces were created by Lynden W. Bute of Sycamore. His sculpture designs have included Superman, Santa Claus, Chief Shabbona, Mickey Mouse, Elvis and the Statue of Liberty.
Bute, 75, is a two-time snow sculpting Illinois state champion, has won an award at an international show sculpting event and has competed nationally six times.
Bute met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to talk about snow sculpting and his designs through the years.
Milton: Are you originally from Sycamore?
Bute: I’m originally from Minnesota. My family moved to Sycamore before I did back in the ’60s. Minnesota was a hard place to make a living back then. They came here and settled and said that work was plentiful. So I moved here, too, and lived with my mother and brother for a few months before I moved out on my own. I was young, 21 or 23, and I got my first car. I really liked it here, and I think a big part of it was the people. Then I started doing snow sculptures.
Milton: How did you get into sculpting snow?
Bute: The first snow sculpture I made was a Santa Claus in my front yard. The newspaper came out and covered it. It became a yearly tradition for me to make a snow sculpture. Soon, I was making them in front of businesses like the grocery store and restaurant. I also started entering competitions.
Milton: Why did you continue?
Bute: I was in the newspaper and TV cameras from Chicago came out, which was exciting. I just kept on going with it. I competed in my first national competition in ’85 or ’86, and I was sent back with the idea that Illinois could host a state championship. I presented the idea to the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce, but they weren’t interested in it. Then Rockford called me to do a snow sculpture, and I wanted to see a competition in Illinois. So I guess you can say I was instrumental in getting snow sculpting competitions started on a state level.
Milton: What are the best conditions for snow sculpting?
Bute: Ice carves best when it’s melting. All the faults go out of it and it won’t crack and break. Carving at room temperature is really nice. When you’re in a competition, you can’t use any molds, armatures, colorants or power tools. But when you carve at home or for a business, you can use anything. I’ve used an armature, an inner support like a skeleton, when I carved the Statue of Liberty in 1976. Her arm and torch are held up with an armature. She was on the corner of South Cross and DeKalb Avenue. There was a grocery store there at the time.
Milton: How do people react to your sculptures?
Bute: People are generally really curious. It’s kind of like doing a performance. People stand around, half an hour or 45 minutes watching and asking questions, and I don’t mind.
Milton: What are some examples of the sculptures you’ve made?
Bute: I’ve done sculptures in Chicago at Daley Plaza, Grant Park, Mount Prospect and at Roosevelt University. I’ve done many in my front and back yards, and at the King’s Way Restaurant [now Sycamore Parkway Restaurant] back when it was Kingsway. I’ve done the Statue of Liberty in 1976, Elvis in 1983 for his 50th birthday, Superman, a Pegasus, Einstein, Chief Shabbona and the Three Stooges. … I received a letter from Walt Disney’s brother for my sculpture of Mickey Mouse that was next door to the armory in 1979. I also made a melting penny that had water melting off of it that I spray-painted copper. It became a little too realistic, though, because it melted. It only looked really good for a day or two.
Milton: Have any of your sculptures won awards?
Bute: I won the Illinois state championship twice, in 1994 and in 1996. In 1994, I won for my sculpture of an eagle. In 1996, my sculpture was of a fisherman pulling his fish out of the water with his dog next to him.
Milton: Tell me about your Mount Sycamore sculpture.
Bute: I modeled Mount Sycamore off of Mount Rushmore. Four of us carved it on the east side of the courthouse lawn in 1979. It made it into the newspaper, Stars and Stripes Magazine and Channel 2 news. The four heads were of Mayor Harold “Red” Johnson, Chief of Police Joe Salemi, art teacher Cora B. Miner and myself. Another artist, David Stott, did my head.
Milton: How big are the sculptures that you make?
Bute: The Santa Claus I made was 6 or 7 feet tall. The second sculpture I made was my dog, which was a little over 4 feet tall. The Superman I made was 18 feet tall and the Statue of Liberty was 26 feet tall. When my boys were younger, I made an igloo they could crawl through and a couple of penguins. I’ve always been tempted to do another igloo.
Milton: How do you sculpt snow?
Bute: I use a snowblower on the back of a tractor. The snow then packs itself, is more condensed and all pulverized. Wet packing snow is almost like clay, but the wetness makes it harder to carve some of the details. … The best carving temperature is right around 32 degrees, as close as it can be to 32. When it’s sub-zero, the snow becomes hard like ice and you need to use saws. When there’s no bright sun and it’s barely freezing is the best time to carve snow.
Milton: What did you do when not snow sculpting?
Bute: I was a carpenter for almost 20 years for Shepard Construction. I think that carpentry and sculpting use a lot of the same skills: you use your hands and do math and measurements. Before that, I was a body and fender mechanic. That was also a form of sculpting, taking cars that are all bent up and damaged and turning them around to look brand new again.