January 31, 2009
Homer Avenue family sculpts winter tradition
Snoopy, Scooby-Doo latest snow sculptures in annual rite that dates back to 1982
Daniel Travis of Cortland says plain old snowmen have no place in his front yard.
“Snowmen belong in the back, the front yard’s strictly for artistic show,” Travis said.
His idea of a “snowman” is the 8-foot Scooby-Doo and Snoopy sculpture in his front yard.
Building large, detailed snow sculptures of various creatures and characters has amounted to a yearly tradition for Travis and his family.
Since moving into their home at 81 Homer Ave. in 1982, Travis and his wife, Maria, have sculpted various characters and creatures on their front lawn.
Their children Marissa, 14, Samantha, 13, and Dominick, 10, pitched in when they were old enough to help.
This year, the family built Snoopy and Scooby-Doo. Last year, King Kong and Sully from the movie “Monsters Inc.” went on display.
A nearly life-sized rhino and a woolly mammoth with 2-foot tusks top their other displays in recent years.
No one in the family actually sits down and decides what to build each year, Daniel Travis said. Most of the time, the idea comes while they are outside piling up the snow.
All of the sculptures, Daniel Travis added, are done using a mason’s trowel, 5-gallon bucket and an ice pick.
Travis, who designs the sculptures by hand with help from his family, said most of them get done in a single day and require some maintenance.
“I start out with a block of snow like a tree trunk and just work off that,” he said.
Daniel Travis is a senior designer at Pall Trinity Micro Corp. in Cortlandville, a company he has worked at for 30 years, and puts his eye for detail to use when designing the snow sculptures.
He said he applies more wet snow every few nights to keep the sculptures standing and rebuild parts that may have slightly melted from sun exposure.
“I usually over-exaggerate the southern side of them because I know it’ll melt,” he said.
The recent string of temperatures reaching over 30 degrees in the afternoon did little to hurt them.
“The warmer temperatures don’t do much harm because they lose some weight and re-freeze that night when it gets colder,” Daniel Travis said.
Samantha said her dad handles most of the snow designing, but she and her brother help haul snow from around the house and shape some of the sculptures.
This has left the backyard somewhat bare compared to the front.
Samantha said she made Scooby-Doo’s leg this year.
“I helped mix snow,” Dominick added.
Mixing the snow with some water to help it freeze together helps with sculpting details in the face and limbs, Travis said.
The process, he added, is similar to building a sand castle.
“You just have to get the snow at the right consistency to shape them,” he said.
Snoopy, which has black gauze wrapped around the snow for its ears and nose, took about five hours to work on and was built about three weeks ago, Travis said. He started at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and finished by 5 that evening.
Daniel Travis’s design hobbies do not end when the snow melts.
There is little free space left in the garage behind the house, where he keeps four 2-by 4-foot covered wagons he built for his kids in 2001. Scattered around the house are various intricate miniature houses, built from wood.
The roofs detach, revealing an authentic-looking interior down to patterns on the walls and floors and furnishings. A three-story barn he is working on has straw in the horse stalls and barrels stacked to one side. The doors inside and outside even swing open.
“I always have to be building something,” Daniel Travis said.
When asked how long they take to make, Maria Travis said, “You don’t wanna know.”
Daniel Travis laughed and said the houses take about six months to make, and the detail inside requires the most time. He said he picked up the designing hobby from his father, who was into woodworking.
While there is still some snow around the house now, Travis said using the snowblower has been difficult because it would blow onto the sculptures.
“I don’t have any ideas right now,” he said when asked if another sculpture was in the works.
The trouble, he added, is figuring out where to put it.
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