In His Master's Steps

In His Master's Steps


This year our subject was Saint Wenceslas, as he is known from the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas. More specifically, our subject involves an act of charity on which the song is based. We have depicted Wenceslas and his Page out on a harsh winter night about to discover a peasant who has stumbled in the snow and cannot go on. Although all three figures in the scene are integral, we are placing the greatest important on the figure of the Page. As we have in the past, we are looking at a character study as the basis of the sculpture. By titling it ‘In His Master's Steps', we are looking to the Page and drawing attention to what he's doing there. We are depicting him as the one with the greatest struggle as he deals with the elements. To us, he is the most interesting character: The Saint is steadfast in his path, the peasant is resigned to his situation, and the Page is caught in the charity of another.

While the sculpture still has to be able to stand alone as a complete visual work with movement, emotion and drama, we've always tried to bring a deeper, if not overly obscure, subtext to our work. By housing the sculpture in a tale with which most of us are familiar, we are offering entrance into a scene which begs for viewer involvement. We hope that by doing this we'll succeed in bringing some layers of meaning to which different people can relate and possibly bring to mind stories of struggle and survival, of charity and kindness, or of acts which we've witnessed or taken for the betterment of another.

Wenceslas and the Page finished

Published in 1853, by John Mason Neale (1818-1866), Good King Wenceslas has gone on to be an enduring Christmas favourite.

In His Master's Steps was created in January/February, 1998 on Dow's Lake in Ottawa. The sculpture garnered Honorable Mention in the General Public category.





Click to view the "In His Master's Steps" photo gallery

Daily Updates

97/12/24 - Receive sculpture application in the mail. It's from a new organization which has been contracted to run Ice Dream (the snow sculpture part of Winterlude). Curious that it doesn't include dates for sculpting...

97/12/31 - See Adam and Jason bring in wood from outside. See potential in outdoors, elements. We've never quite mastered movement in our sculptures. This is an idea I'd like to explore.

98/01/01 - Do sketches of central grouping for Wenceslas figures in the wee hours of the morning at Rustin's cottage. Like the key figures of Monarch coming over a hill with a Page behind. Huddled figure in foreground gives interesting connection with audience: removed from main scene yet still a part of it. Audience will need to react to both individually at first, then react to the two groups of figures.

98/01/04 - Consider creating a web page for the sculpture with updates and background information. Begin creating some graphics to see how it might look.

98/01/05 - Discuss idea of web page updates with Adam. Great opportunity to give greater depth to the sculpture and to the process. It also gives a forum where we can post pictures of our previous efforts for people to see. The idea of a day-by-day account and progressive photographs is well received.

Discuss ideas with Dave about what we both want to do. Spend hours going over ideas. Discuss history of Saint Wenceslas. Discuss potential for movement of fabrics and characters in the wind and snow. Like the idea of a lantern as a symbol and as a sculpting challenge. (Afraid that it could turn into a ‘chain' if we're not careful...) Agree that the Wenceslas grouping would be an excellent sculpture but it currently lacks enough thematic punch. Angle of charity and compassion too straight forward, no question, no ambiguity. Morality play without involvement. There must be more layers to read into.

Spent a while listening to the carol, to get a feel for what's going on. Decide to change focus from the unquestioned righteousness of the Saint to the uncertainty of the Page. Choose title "In His Master's Steps" as almost a question. Focusses on the Page. Wenceslas is a given, the peasant is a given, the Page is the unknown. Why is he there? Would he choose to be there if he was not lead by his master? Does he care? What is he thinking? Want the Page staring out at the crowd. The Page is the character which we can relate to the audience, not the monarch. Discuss idea of adding a donkey or mule holding the Page back. Decide to sleep on the idea and reconvene tomorrow.

98/01/06 - Still haven't heard what days we're actually supposed to be sculpting. Since it's currently pouring rain, I'm not sure anyone can say for certain yet anyway.

98/01/11 - Intended meeting with the team turns into more of a TV watching exercise. Some discussion was done about how the figures would be grouped. Dave searches through books to find comparable dress and costume. I'm not even sure that I want to do the sculpture at this point but feel a sense of obligation. Thought Wenceslas would look commanding if he were mounted on a horse. We've done a horse before and that disqualifies the idea. Pity, it would have looked good.

98/01/13 - Do a quick sketch and fax it to the organizers. Write a two line blurb on what it's about. There's a real art to that, trying not to make it sound pretentious, while still making the subject seem like it matters:

This sculpture is an interpretation of a scene from the life of Saint Wenceslas, best known from the Christmas Carol 'Good King Wenceslas'. We will be emphasizing movement and expression by the use of grand sweeping fabric and clothing, while concentrating on the realism and humanity of the scene.

98/01/15 - Sculpture entry deadline.

98/01/17 - Buy 3d modeling software to help us plan this sculpture and see it from various angles. This will allow greater flexibility than plasticine and will be easier to print out multiple versions and compare them. We may end up doing plasticine models too, but this will give us a good framework for how everything will look together. Besides, the software makes it look cooler.

98/01/20 - Orientation night. Dave flew back early from San Francisco just to attend (what a nut). We got to meet Benoit (with whom I'd been playing phone tag for a month), and to see Aldo again. We also met up with lots of other sculptors we've met over the years. The few, the proud, the crazy. It was fun. Dave answered questions and gave suggestions to all the sculptors there. Lots of keen people with some good ideas. It's good to see new enthusiastic competitors. I look forward to seeing what this year has to offer.

Accepted the challenge (in principle) to do a second sculpture in the same time period. A 35 foot Canada logo to be built near the Dow's Lake Pavilion. As if one sculpture isn't enough! We only accepted after a lot of discussion on size and how we would approach it. Twice the planning, but it's kind of cool to say we did two sculptures. Especially for Canada.

98/01/27 - Late night ensuring that the web page idea would work. Adam, Chris and Andrew worked their magic to make all this stuff work. Still lots to do to make it perfect but at least we have an address now and we can get the signs and business cards printed.

Lots of trouble getting a clear approval on the second sculpture. In order to be able to do two sculptures, we're asking for a design change on ‘Canada' (including a back wall on which the letters rest), but we haven't yet gotten the okay.

98/01/29 - Much frustration as the design is still not okayed for the second sculpture and the web site is still not yet fully functional. All is resolved of course, with minutes to spare, but to ask for more would be greedy. Business cards are being printed (for the right web address, thankfully), templates are being made for the letters in Canada, the web site is now fully functional, weather's looking good and everything's coming up roses. All that's left is to go out and buy lots more warm clothing. I'll be glad when everything calms down, but for now, it looks like we could just pull this off...

98/01/30 - Sculpting begins. Day One: Not a good beginning. As we arrived with all of the wood structure needed to build the Canada sculpture, we found that the decision had still not been made as to where the sculpture would be placed. We had lots of people standing around as we tried to get answers. That was resolved but not before losing far too many person-hours for my liking. Later the problem got worse as a misunderstanding on what was required to complete the deal again made us questioned whether we would do this project. It will be a great shame if this cannot go ahead because of the countless hours so many people, especially Dave's friends and co-workers from Mastron Manufacturing, have put into this task.

On the Wenceslas sculpture, things progressed much smoother. The ground is cleared, the base where we are mounting our sketches and pictures is up, and the position of the figures is marked with the peasant and Wenceslas already begun. Not bad for a first day when the weather was too warm for our liking. The business cards were finished and were couriered right to the site (Yeah! No spelling mistakes!) So that's working out okay as well.

We met up with old friends out on the ice and hope to make new ones with the people around us. Some of the other teams we were hoping would return have not arrived, but it's still early. Our team is quite enthusiastic and it looks like we're all going to have fun no matter what (we're fun people), and I guess that's all we can hope for. I'm sure they're all as sore as I am at the moment, with equally wind-burned cheeks and noses, and all the other nasty side effects of so long a day in these conditions. These are the things you can forget during the year, but the memory of just how sore and how wet and gross you feel can come right back. Back out there tomorrow with fresh socks, mitts, scarves, whatever it takes to get through that next day of sculpting. Tomorrow's plan: If the weather stays warm, we'll have problems with building the Page and the upper part of Wenceslas because they have more extending parts which won't freeze fast enough. Thankfully we have the peasant who is low to the ground and can be worked in this relatively high temperature. We will also find out if the other sculpture is a go which will again radically alter our schedule. I don't like working with all of these variables, but we still have no choice. On the lighter side, the weather will probably bring out record numbers of visitors, and we can have some fun that way. Overall, I think we have to be pleased with how things are going. We'll see how it goes.

98/01/31 - Day Two: Things are better today. The weather is still too warm for our liking but we were surprisingly productive. As agreement was made with regards to the second sculpture and we're back on again, much to everyone's relief. The Wenceslas sculpture now has a basic shape for Wenceslas and the peasant, and legs for the Page. They don't look like much but it's quite good for the second day, I think. The wall has been erected for the 'Canada' sculpture which is good. That will have to set for a few days allowing up time to make sure Wenceslas is not forgotten.

We looked around at many other sculptures on the ice, and while disappointed at the number of other participants, we were impressed by most efforts. It seems many are absorbing ideas from years gone by and building on them and also introducing new approaches and angles. It's hard to tell really for the second day, but it looks like there will be at least a few outstanding sculptures this year.

Lots of people came by to help and made the work quite a bit easier. (Enthusiasm is always appreciated). Quite a few people came out to visit which also makes the day lots of fun. We gave out many business cards with the internet address (as Lori became the master of Dow's Lake PR). We met people from as far away as France and San Francisco, and some nice people who traveled all the way from Brampton to come skating on the canal. It was nice to talk with people and answer their questions as we worked. I'm hoping the weather continues to hold and lots more people will come and visit tomorrow.

98/02/01 - Day Three: It's getting harder and harder to get out of bed. Very sore muscles. Everyone is still in good spirits but starting to get frustrated because of the warm temperatures. It's around the zero degrees Celsius mark which is about ten degrees too warm for our sculpting style. Many hours were wasted because we knew that making slush and sculpting with it would be wasted as water would run out of the piece you were working on before it had time to freeze. Most of what we had done yesterday is now soft enough to put your fingers through because the water drained out before it froze. This makes the sculpture far softer than we had hoped and makes structural pieces far more questionable. We have had real trouble in getting anything to freeze, and it's not expected to get much better anytime soon. As a result, we'll be moving our sculpting hours back, trying to capture more of the colder hours after the sun goes down. This is harder on us but better for the sculpture.

Still a good turn out of team members. It's was Rustin's birthday - what a horrible way to celebrate. A few visitors dropped by and cheered us up. A lot of people stopped and talked to us, but without our PR person, we probably missed many who had questions.

Overall, I'm still quite impressed with the progress, mainly as a result of the great team turnout and effort we've had thus far. Although not as solid as I would prefer, what has gone up is quite good. Wenceslas has a body, upper arms and a beginning of costume; the Page has legs and a body; and the peasant is completely built but still without all of the necessary care and attention required. More costume and detailing is still required. We're still at the fun stage where the sculpture looks like something, but no one's sure quite what yet. We had a lot of people think we were doing Jesus or the Virgin Mary (although I'm not sure why). One fun group of kids though it was Batman and George Washington. Like I said, who knows why, but it's always interesting to hear these interpretations. I only hope they stop making such wild guesses once we've finished.

Weather is the big issue still facing us. The Canada sculpture is benefiting from the warmth as the snow mound melts and settles into place, but the Wenceslas sculpture could sure use a nice frosty night. We shall see.

98/02/02 - Day Four: Surviving, (dare I say prospering) in spite of the repulsively warm weather we're experiencing (plus four degrees as a high). Luckily it hasn't melted too much and nothing has fallen over. It is causing the sculpture to soften a great deal making all of our carving a bit tentative, but so far that hasn't been too big of a problem. It is a concern because the sculptures are essentially melting from the inside out and can't possible last as long as other years, but hopefully they'll at least remain standing until the end of the first weekend.

The weather is expected to get colder through the week and as we work later and later into the day, we should be able to pull this off. If everything freezes and the gets warm, it should be all right. Dave is staying late into the night in order to coat everything with a layer of water so it can freeze and get stronger. The problem with slush in this weather is the water all drains out before it has a chance to freeze, making everything that much softer and weaker.

We saw a lot more groups we recognized from previous years and see that everyone seems to be doing harder and harder designs, which is good. There's a lot of new groups as well who seem very enthusiastic. Hopefully between all of us, we'll be able to inspire more teams to come out on the ice to contribute in their own way next year. We've had lots of inquiries on how to enter.

A view up from in front of the peasant

Things seem to be chugging right along on ours, despite the inclement weather. Even if something falls over, we should have time to fix it - after all that's why we use slush. The team seems larger this year, with more of a steady contribution from all. Dave has put way more work in than I have, but hopefully some of that can be rectified as the week goes on. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it, considering we've only just hit the halfway point. There comes a point in every sculpture where you just feel satisfied that you've accomplished your task. It always comes earlier with me than with Dave (I guess I'm always finding the ideas more important the actual sculpture), and I'm getting the feeling that it's fast approaching with this one. With any luck, however, we'll all be satisfied before we're through.

98/02/03 - Day Five: The real damage. It was only today that we saw the real damage of the warm weather. What seemed fine yesterday continued its erosion overnight and left us with exceptionally brittle figures and a great deal of patching to do. Wenceslas is fine but the other two require extreme care and attention. I don't think they'll survive long at all. Many teams have sustained tremendous losses from the continuing plus temperatures. It's dropped now and should be idea from now on, should everyone be able to recover and try again.

We saw more visitors today, including someone we sculpted with years earlier. It's always nice to meet and greet and tell old sculpting stories.

Things are heading approximately on schedule despite the setbacks. We have a lot of details to add to put this sculpture over the top (and several limbs and garments still to complete) but I'm starting to be happy with the basic feel of the sculpture. We have yet to start carving the Canada sculpture, but I think it should be quite straightforward. If we can continue the reasonable progress we've been making, I'll be happy. We could of course go all out and make the Wenceslas sculpture incredible, but I think I'd rather keep it low-key and enjoy it. To take on two sculptures and aim for perfection might be a little much. I'm not so sure we have to prove we can do bells and whistles (or chains) anymore. If we can do a sculpture that stops people, gets our point across and gets crowds excited without having every last detail perfect, isn't that enough? Perhaps we're working toward accepting a more abstract ideal here, and that something we've discussed before. It sometimes makes me wonder just what parts we're doing for the public and what parts we're doing for us.

98/02/04 - Day Six: The end in sight. Things progressed nicely as I got to spend my first full day on the ice. Weather could not have been better with a minus 6 average and no wind to speak of. We got a lot of chiseling done and began carving the Canada sculpture. The fabric all got more dramatic motion added and details started to be added. You can really tell what everything is supposed to be now and it's starting to look quite good. Now it's time for us to start adding the extra detail to make it look that much better.

Lots of other sculptures starting to take shape. A few standouts come to mind with some really neat tricks. One group has a pole about 12 feet long suspended on a 45 degree angle. Quite remarkable really. It's not something I'd want to try. In fact, I just hope they keep it standing until Saturday. One poor group had their sculpture collapse on them. Very sad. There's really nothing you can do but pack up and go home at this point. It's important to have contingency plans, but at this late date, with the whole sculpture gone, what else can you do. With two more days to go, I hope no other groups have to deal with the same thing (especially us).

What I said yesterday about feeling the sculpture is done still holds true today. I've been telling everyone that if we really wanted to we could make one good concerted effort and finish in a matter if hours. We won't course, but this is all gravy. We've started rolling down the other side of the mountain, and that's good because tomorrow is traditionally the day people start coming out to visit. It may sound like a small thing, but if you're going to schedule the building of a sculpture, you really must factor in that you're going to want to stop and talk to all of your visitors. And towards the end of the week, that can be any number of people. That's what makes it fun though and I wouldn't want to have to give any of that up to go sculpt.

Tomorrow should be our smallest turnout because several members of our team won't be available. Probably best though as we are starting to run out of nonspecific jobs. With the three figures nearing completion and being in highly breakable states, you can really only get one or two sculptors on a figure, and that leaves an obvious surplus. It's a problem I can't say I've found myself in before, and one other members of my team might not agree with, but for now, it's better than any other problem I could have foreseen.

98/02/05 - Day Seven: Here comes the Sun. A cruel day to witness. The sun was so hot and bright that it melted everything on one side of the sculpture. All detail and a lot of structure was eroded as we could do nothing but sit back and watch. This is why I never come back to see the sculpture after closing day, it's too hard to witness. We were fortunate however and we were able to rebuild these areas after the sun went down.

There was also trouble with the web page, but only if you used certain kind of web browsers. My fault I'm afraid as I made a mistake with my html code (I'm still relatively new at this). All is fixed now thanks to Chris and things should be working well now.

We received our first feedback on-line today from New York State. It's nice to know people are interested and checking us out. Oh, and the only visitors that mattered dropped by yesterday to take a look (they made me say that...)

As all of the sculptures begin to take on their final appearance, everyone starts to talk about how we're going to place. Not an issue really, but I suspect we'll manager third, or maybe even second. We don't really match the judges criteria so we never expect phenomenal placement, but we're more than happy with the sculpture. I was asked today if I was happy, if it ranked with other Jeffco Productions. I think I said I was. I'm happy with it as it is, more detail may even take away, but I'm happy, as is everyone else, I think. Whether it rates with past efforts? I'm not sure I was every really impressed with any of them at the time. I'm too close to them to see them. I have to trust that the design and the hard work of the entire team will pay off into something we'll all remember with fondness and with pride.

98/02/06 - Day Eight: The end. We made it, but not before another brutal day of sun which made us cover everything up and wait for the sun to go down. We spent the rest of the time working on the other sculpture and making a lantern for Wenceslas which was ice on three sides. Hands and fingers and trim and details all went on without too much extra effort and everything was done by nine-thirty. We slushed over the ground and swept until it shined. Everything turned out as good as we had hoped and the crowds all seemed to agree. Everyone chipped in to make every last detail fit and I'm not sure we could have found too much more to do if we had wanted to. I think we're all quite proud of the way it turned out.

After we finished with that one, we did our annual tour around the sculptures, wishing the other sculptors well and checking on their progress. We also like to see how this year relates to previous years we've seen. It was encouraging as some of the sculptures were much more dynamic and ornate. Some more ambitious and better executed than previous efforts. It was sad to note the diminishing number of finished sculptures and the number of repeat themes, but if you have a good year, maybe it will persuade others to take up the cause. I think there's enough excellent ones out there to make people think it might be worth trying.

All-in-all we were all happy with the way everything turned out. We received compliments on the expressiveness and dynamism of the sculpture which is what we set out to bring to the sculpture. Everyone that saw it seemed to enjoy it so I guess it was all worthwhile. I just hope everyone gets as much joy out of seeing it as we do.

Jeff, Dave and Mike pose with the nearly finished sculpture as the camera begins to freeze