Sculpting Bill Clinton

Snow Bill

In 1992 at the height of my Republican apostasy I threw my support to Bill Clinton. In the process I managed to alienate myself from Republicans and the Reform Party members who stayed loyal to Ross Perot despite the increasing evidence of his quirky paranoia. Since local Democrats had never had any use for me I was pretty effectively in political limbo. Big deal. That meant I was squarely in the middle with about 75% of the population that was fed up with "politics as usual."

After he was inaugurated  in 1993 I decided to offer the new President an olive branch. I began to build a snow sculpture bust of the new President. I had never sculpted a face before but I was growing more and more confident of my snow carving abilities.

By coincidence, I got a call from Paul Guggenheimer a reporter for the local CBS affiliate. He told me he wanted to do a story about me for a new series that they were going to call "On the Road."  The fluffy piece written about me the previous year by Jeff Potts in Twin Ports People may have drawn Paul's attention to me. It would be a local version of Charles Kurralt's national program by the same name.  It would be a two part interview rolled into one. He would show the before and after.

I piled all the snow in my yard into an eight foot high stack on our front lawn overlooking the busy thoroughfare below. Paul and his cameraman shot me piling up the snow up and throwing water on it to make it sticky. You could hear me whistling on the tape. He showed me consulting a dozen photos of Clinton clipped from various magazines.  I started adding a protuberance for Bill's nose but I wanted to wait until the weather warmed up and the snow would be snowball sticky. Then I could work it like clay rather than marble. Fortunately, before Paul came back a nice heat wave hit Duluth.

When I finished Bill's face actually had a passable resemblance to the new President.  Guggenheimer returned and did a follow-up interview. His story made me look like an affable eccentric and ran nationwide on local stations.  I heard from a half a dozen people across the country who had seen it. The funniest message I got was from a couple of college guys in Ohio who wanted some pointers on snow sculpting because a major snow storm was bearing down on the state. 

Bill's head sat patiently on my lawn until I heard about a snow sculpting contes sponsored by local radios staion WEBC.  I decided to give my Bill a  saxophone and enter the contest.  I took fourth place! I never saw my competition but I chalked the poor showing up to the fact that WEBC aired Rush Limbaugh's talk show.  I don't think they wanted to risk offending their listening audience by giving out an award to a Bill Clinton sculpture. 

Then Chuck Curtis, the Duluth Tribune's photographer, added to my celebrity.  He took a picture of a passerby gazing up at my statue. It made the AP wire. At least a dozen letters with clippings  from papers all over the country of my sculpture were mailed to me. 

Not everyone liked my Bill, of course.  Someone sneaked up in the middle of the night and knocked off his nose. I got it repaired just in time for a photographer from the Minneapolis Trib who drove up to take pictures of it. They had a nice spread of Bill in their paper the following weekend. 

Bill Comes to Duluth

Five years later, on November 4th, 1998, Bill Clinton made a visit to Duluth. He was trying to stem the conservative tide which was about to sweep the Congress. The arrival of a President in town is always a big deal. The visit of JFK to Duluth back in the early 60's, for instance, is a regular subject of pictorial reviews in the local paper. Now a new President was about to pay us a call.

I didn't pay much attention to the Clinton visit, although I kept hearing enthusiastic reports about it from the College Republicans. They were planning to run some kind of relay around the Holliday Inn where the President was to advertise their displeasure with him. It was both silly and fun.

On the day after his arrival in Duluth, and the day he was to speak at the University of Minnesota - Duluth, I was busy working at my computer. When I glanced out the window I noticed a dark, suspicious, figure standing along the avenue standing and facing the avenue. My curiosity piqued I went outside for a closer look. There were more such figures lining the street all they way down the hill to Superior Street four blocks away. Then it dawned on me,  my house was on the the most direct route to the campus from the Presidential Suite downtown. The President's motorcade would be passing right by my house.

I noted the time and made a quick calculation. I called Woodland Junior High School and asked for the principal, Ed Marsman. As a newly elected school board member I had no doubt that Ed would honor my request. I told Ed about the sentries, and the presidential route, then asked if it would be all right for me to take my kids out of school for an half hour to watch the President drive by. Ed graciously acceded to my request.

When I arrived at the school a few minutes later my daughter and son were waiting for me in the Principal's office wondering what the heck I had called them out of class for. When I told them they both objected. The Principal, himself, had called them out of class. Now everybody thought they were in trouble. They were mortified.

My daughter, Keely, was more forgiving.  My son Robb, was really peeved. He had forbidden me from ever coming to his class again in first grade. That year I had been a co-chairman of the school carnival. I had visited each class to advertise the carnival, including his,  dressed as a Ninja turtle. It took six years before he finally let me visit his class again while he was in it!

Robb was adamant. He would not watch the President. It was all I could do to order him home. He told me he would stay in the house as the President drove by. I believed him. When he was six he had locked himself in the bathroom for forty five minutes just before we were scheduled to fly out of Duluth on a trip to Disney World. I had only gotten him to open the door by threatening to take the door off its hinges. (That would have been a neat trick because the hinges were on his side of the door. He was only six and his grasp of mechanics had yet to develope)  He's a stubborn kid! Rather than argue with him I told him that it was his decision whether to hide from the motorcade or not but that he still had to come home with me.

Republicans had been vilifying the President ever since his inaugural but I was raised to respect the office of Commander and Chief. To be honest, I still had a fair amount of respect for his ideas. As far as I was concerned he was my kind of Republican. Welfare reform, free trade, paying down the national debt, making abortions legal, safe, and rare; these ideas all appealed to me. Of course, that is not how my party viewed him. They blamed him for stealing their best ideas. But my philosophy is simple: When you see a good idea you should steal it - except where copy write law is concerned.

We got to the house and, sure enough, my son headed for his room. Keely stood outside and waited patiently. I went in and grabbed my camera.

I couldn't help wondering if the President would notice my house. It was possible that if someone from the area was driving with him they  would mention my snow sculpture of him. It also seemed likely that because my sculpture's photo had been in so many newspapers someone would have shown it to him. In fact, on the day of his arrival in Duluth our local newspaper had made up a humorous list of the top 10 sites that the President ought to visit while in the City.  My  house was number 8 on the list with a warning to the President about my political affiliation.

When I saw the first flashing light at the bottom of the avenue where the highway fed into it, I rushed to the house and yelled: "The first police car just turned up the hill. The President will be here in less than thirty seconds." Then I returned to the sidewalk. Shortly before the presidential limousine drove past I looked over my shoulder and saw my son's head poking out of the spirea bush overlooking the procession. I quickly looked into my camera and snapped a picture of the limousine as it passed. I never did see the President and my photograph ended up being too blurry to see him in it either.

But my son....."I saw the President!" he said with great animation, "He smiled at me,"  Ah, those were beautiful words to hear from my son the cynic.

Impeach Clinton

Four years later President Clinton was under fire for his dalliance with an intern, lying to a grand jury, and for being insincerely genuine to the American public. The Republicans were rabid and the public, me included, recoiled as we watched them root around in the President's privy.

My son, now an eighth grader, had just learned how to take an image from our computer and transfer it to an iron-on patch. He toiled for a day on a personal project. When he was done he proudly showed us his creation. He had placed an "Impeach Clinton" sticker on a shirt. We wouldn't let him wear it to school. Refusing to let my son exercise his first amendment rights made me feel very awkward. I felt like I was giving Bill Clinton aid and comfort he little deserved at my son's expense.

I'd prefer to have an idealistic son, one like Bill Clinton must have been when he shook hands with John Kennedy. I'd hate to think that Bill Clinton's legacy to my son is an entrenched and inalienable cynicism. |

America deserved something better from the President.

You can watch a three minute video of the building of Bill Clinton in snow. 

When Bill came to town our local paper had a top ten list of things for Bill to do. Driving by my house was number eight.

By the way, Bill Clinton is not the only person to have shaken President Kennedy's hand. So did my Grandfather George Robb.

and don't miss the First Cheese Head