Snow Sculpture

Team House of Thune, from left: Kelly Thune, David Aichinger and Dusty Thune. Aichinger lives in Osceola and the Thunes reside in the Twin Cities.


With a sculpture called “Turtle Island,” an Osceola man’s team won the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s snow sculpting contest for a fifth year. 

The team, comprised of Osceola’s David Aichinger and House of Thune teammates Kelly Thune and Dusty Thune, designed the figure to show support for clean water. It is inspired, in part, by creation stories from this continent’s indigenous cultures.

“We developed a compilation of indigenous creation stories in the form of an 8-by-12-foot turtle with the face of our grandmother earth screaming at the stars of Orion as her body is bled of oil,” Aichinger told The Sun in an email.

Each of the Winter Carnival sculptures starts as an 8-foot cube of compressed snow. They’re typically carved with chisels and saws. 

“They’re all the same when we start,” Aichinger said, “and when they come out they’re all completely different. The snow is really heavy. Moving it is a work out and a lot of teams work into the night to finish.”

The trio hollowed out the turtle’s shell as a tribute “to caves that are central to the Dakota at Bdote as the womb of the earth, with a central circle of the seven tribal fires represented by seated robed elders at its heart,” he wrote.

To light those fires, the team carved through the mouth at the top of the shell, allowing the sun to illuminate the cave’s interior and create “a glowing orange fire at the center of the elders,” Aichinger said. 

At midnight, the seven stars of the constellation Orion are visible from inside the shell.

House of Thune’s sculpture alludes to concerns over oil pollution, such as those voiced in 2016 at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

“The turtle’s head and legs resolve into oil pipes to show the waters of the earth bleeding oil,” Aichinger said. “We built Turtle Island atop a black asphalt parking lot and carved away the snow from the ends of the pipes to allow the sun to melt the snow and expose the inky black surface below. The black surface will continue to grow along a pre-carved area to create the oceans of the earth when viewed from above.”

Although the team’s success in the Minnesota contest earned them the privilege of competing in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship last weekend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, they didn’t. After organizers at the national competition denied two of their design submissions due to overtly political themes, House of Thune offered their spot to the runner up in the St. Paul competition. 

The conflict sparked a debate over free speech and the role of art, with coverage by WCCO radio, the Associated Press, a blog post from The Hill, a national newspaper.

Politics aside, Aichinger, a mosaic artist and the woodworker behind Standing Cedars Workshop (, called snow sculpting an inspiring winter activity.

“It’s just getting involved in something to get outside in winter and get out of the house,” he said. “It’s really neat being around all these other artists and teams. It’s competitive but we’re all out there together.”

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