"Arctic Wanderings" for Winterfest | VailDaily.com

"Arctic Wanderings" for Winterfest

HL Vail Winterfest 1 DT 12-21-11

The bear would not crash and burn. Velocity didn’t harm him, nor did an icy ski run.

He never hesitated, imagining scenarios where momentum precedes destruction by a matter of seconds. No, the bear simply… was. Despite the fact that he was created for the express purpose of racing down a single run and bursting upon impact at the bottom, he endured. He was a very Zen bear. Who knew polar bears were Buddhists?

Created by Eagle-Vail artist and architect Karl Krueger for the Dummy Gelunde competition at Vail’s Snow Daze festival a couple years ago, the polar bear made out of snow was supposed to be one of those beautiful and fleeting art-meets-ingenuity moments. In the Dummy Gelunde, the bigger the explosion and the cleverer the concept, the higher the score. Unfortunately for the competition (and fortunately for the rest of the world), the polar bear just rolled over halfway down and, for all intents and purposes, fell asleep.

“The Dummy demolition should be a single idea,” Krueger said. “It should take three days to construct, you do it, launch it and then move on.”

But a lack of the destructive process means Krueger couldn’t move on. He had to deal with a 1,000-pound polar bear. A call to Art in Public Places resulted in the bear being carted to Gore Creek Drive, where he was a character in many a family photo as he slowly melted over the course of several weeks. And thus began Vail’s relationship with Karl Krueger’s polar bears. Last season, Krueger installed polar bears made of snow throughout Vail, and this week, he’s busy installing the first of what will be eight sculptures scattered throughout Vail Village and Gore Creek Promenade.

The exhibit is titled “Arctic Wandering.”

“The polar bears are of the snow and from the snow – ‘The clay is the earth and you can form up an animal from the dirt,'” Krueger said.

For these polar bears, he is a creator of biblical proportions, ruminating on the bears and their environments.

“What does a polar bear have?” asks the artist. “The sky. The seal. The ice. The hole in the ice. That hole is where he gets his food, his nourishment. It’s primordial.”

Working from photos, Krueger creates a clay model. Using his architectural skills, he then translates that into a planar model. From there, he reduces the round shapes into faceted shapes in a cardboard model. He measures. He fits things together. He takes to his backyard and builds a framework for the bears, and he creates outward from that. He forms the polar bears up on skis, in the shadow of his house with snow that’s just fallen. The bears are not touched by the sun until he loads them up and takes them east into Vail, where they’ll be frolicking in different spots in the village, from the top of Bridge Street to the banks of Gore Creek. White paw prints throughout town might offer up clues to the attentive child as to where the bears are lurking.

“We’re trying to do something against nature,” Krueger said. “We’re trying to make snow last for two months.”

And last they do.

Krueger didn’t set out to be a snow sculptor. He and his wife, Pavan, are sole-proprietor architects at their firm, Krueger Architects. They and their two sons, ages 5 and 7, live in a home he designed, sold and bought back in Eagle-Vail. On any given day there might be a Lego tower in progress on the living-room floor. The house is filled with his work – paintings, bone boxes (the remains of an animal, removed from death, reimagined into a tabletop sculpture), even a chain-mail-like dress made out of milk jug segments.

Krueger spends a lot of time thinking about concepts, ideas, intricacies.

“You can come to Vail and work on resort houses the rest of your life,” Krueger said. “They’re beautiful, people love them, love to work for them. They perform for the investor, but they don’t offer a new way of looking at things.”

Krueger is a demanding architect – before committing to a project, he has to know that he’s going to want to live and breathe it for two years. “To stay interested in something, you have to fall in love with it,” he said.

And polar bears have kept his interest. He’s discovered that they do a lot of standing on their hind legs. Getting 4 feet taller to peer out over the ice means a bear sees farther and has a better chance of scoring a seal. His research has shown that polar-bear paws are more like human feet than black-bear paws.

“Look at this,” he said, showing photos of the paw beneath layers of fur. “Having the courage to draw a foot at the end of a polar bear leg is something you’re taught not to do.”

Krueger has spent a great deal of time thinking about that hole in the ice, that primordial hole in the ice. To that end, some of the lighting they’ll employ will be recessed in those holes. Pink Monkey Solutions is doing the lighting of the exhibit, just as they have since the inception of the project. They’re stashing LED lights in holes around the bears.

“It identifies that the bear is on ice and that there is a hole in the ice,” said Nathan Cox, co-owner of the company.

He’s also bringing in some image projection, which will deliver a texture to the light surrounding the bears. It will give the experience a little more definition, and allow people to feel a little bit more a part of the bears’ world. Larger than life, created out of the snow, these bears belong to Vail, belong in Vail. And they’re here to stay, at least for a couple of months.

Wren Wertin is the special sections editor at the Vail Daily. Email her at wren@vaildaily.com.

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