The National Snow-Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin only accepts the 15 champions of 12 state competitions, and the House of Thune from Minnesota -- featuring Dusty Thune, Kelly Thune, and David Aichinger -- is usually one of them.
Not this year. The team’s design has been banned from competition for being too political.
Last winter, the House of Thune’s entry was a large bust of President Donald Trump, with a sort of swirling vortex spouting from its collar -- like “a poop emoji coming out of a suit,” Dusty says. They added a pair of pursed lips here, a hand sprouting “from a fold of shit” and grabbing a “pussy cat” there, a nuclear rocket coming out the backside, and a floppy-looking toupee on top. They called it “Peep.”
“It was a physical representation of [Trump’s] Twitter feed,” Dusty says. In the wake of the Women’s March and some of Trump’s derogatory comments about African countries, it felt important for House of Thune to “say something” about it in snow form.
“Peep” would end up being a game-changer. Literally. Once spectators recognized the sculpture’s toupee and realized it was supposed to be Trump, the Nationals committee started hearing from them. Not in a good way.
Organizer Don Berg said he got complaints about the statue’s political overtones and its vulgar appearance. He told the Pioneer Press that this was the first time in 34 years they’ve had this sort of problem.
“Our greatest interest is in the audience, and we do not want to offend them,” he says.
“Peep” was so objectionable to the contest’s sensibilities, Dusty said, that a contest organizer threatened to have it knocked down with a bulldozer. Rather than capitulate, he and his teammates stayed up until 3 a.m. constructing a massive wall around the sculpture, with a few migrant workers made of snow and some taco trucks bursting out of every corner.
“It was great,” he says. He says he got high-fives from women wearing pink pussy hats, and a few dirty looks from some other folks. As far as he was concerned, he’d done his job as an artist.
But this year, a change in the competition rules came down early in the season: From now on, the sculptures had to be family friendly, apolitical, and uncontroversial.
“It was based on the fact that they were using this format, this event, for their political statements,” Berg says of House of Thune. “And it wasn’t subtle.”
Dusty and company heard them loud and clear, and submitted their application for this year’s sculpture two months ago. The first: “Statue of Tyranny.” It depicted Trump as the Statue of Liberty, but if the Statue of Liberty held a torch made of money and brooded over a migrant child trapped in a cage of ice. The committee turned it down.
So, along came the team’s second proposal: a piece called “Descension,” which depicted a line of people descending down a conveyor belt and straight into a churning gear. Dusty told the Washington Post it was supposed to symbolize “the process of self-destruction through greed and loss of empathy.”
It was also turned down. People being chewed alive by indifferent societal gears wasn’t “family friendly” enough.
“There were entire families on the conveyor belt,” Dusty protests. “To me, that seems pretty inclusive.”
The committee gave House of Thune one more chance to submit a more palatable design, and they refused. Instead, they’d just sit this year out. Another team of Minnesota sculptors went in their place.
Berg says he gets it. Art is supposed to create a reaction in its viewers -- whether it’s pleasure, or anger, or even outrage. He’s an artist himself, he says. And he knows that House of Thune are good, respected sculptors. They’ve been to Nationals five times, and they’re welcome to come back again -- but if they continue their “political agenda,” they “may have a difficult time of it.”
Thune says his team will come back. They’ve won state again with their environmentally-themed piece about water conservation, so they’re eligible. And if what’s in their hearts and minds at that point is still political, he says, then that’s what the committee is going to get.
“The future is going to be cool,” he says.