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Wisconsin Sculptor Rebuilds After 60-Foot Ice Sculpture Collapses

Roger Hanson began rebuilding the ice sculpture the day after his original 60-foot work collapsed. He's determined to restore the sculpture in time for a series of light shows planned around it.

On the edge of Lake Superior, a 60-foot tower of man-made ice came tumbling down last week.

The ice sculpture was part of a public art project commissioned by the city of Superior, Wis., and the man behind the unusual sculpture is determined to make it rise again.

Two weeks ago, the ragged pillar of ice towered above Barker's Island. You could see it from the road driving into Superior.

"I think it's pretty impressive," says resident Alya Pfeil. "At first I thought it was just frozen ice, nothing to it. But it's actually quite impressive."

On a recent Saturday in January, Pfeil and her three young sons were speculating on the sculpture's abstract shape.

"Arthur, what do you think it looks like?" Pfeil asks. "You think it's a dolphin tale? I think it looks like a sail. It does. It looks like a boat coming in."

But those visions are gone now.

"This is where we had fractures," says Roger Hanson, who built the sculpture. "You see that big lump there? Or that big cube?"

Hanson's baseball cleats grip the ice as he walks around what's left of his icy monolith. The sculpture the size of a six-story building has been replaced by a modest house-sized one. Hanson says after weeks of unusually warm weather, just as he was talking with a reporter at the sculpture, it collapsed.

"And he said, 'Is that cracking? Is that normal?' " Hanson recalls. "And I said, 'What cracking? I didn't hear it.' And he says, 'Well it's cracking, it's getting louder and louder!' I knew exactly what was going on. I knew that this thing was...that was it, that was the end."

It's public demise lasted a matter of seconds. A line of cars packed Barkers Island that night with people wanting to see what had happened, and a video of the crash has drawn 50,000 views.

"It is a bit of a risk," says Mary Morgan, director of Parks and Recreation for the city, which is paying Hanson to live on site and create the sculpture. "But Roger took a chance on Superior, Wis., and Superior, Wis., took a chance on Roger."

With a light show planned this weekend, Hanson knows the pressure's on to recreate the massive sculpture.

"Why do I do this? Because I can," Hanson says. "I've got all the technology, knowledge to do this!"

While you might be imagining Hanson chiseling a form out of a giant ice block, his process is different. He's self-taught and his tools are pipe fittings, hoses and circuit boards. His sculpture is built from the ground up using a robotic sprayer mounted on a tower. It senses and responds to wind speed and direction.

"That's the whole magic of this system, is to be able to put that water exactly where I need to put it," Hanson says.

The day after the crash, Hanson started rebuilding, right on top of the wreckage of his fallen sculpture. He gets lots of encouragement from local fans, like Superior resident Bonnie Clark.

"Well, we kind of thought it might be coming because we had such a warm streak in weather, and that's what happens to ice when it gets warm, it melts," Clark says. "It's been a great lesson for our grandson. He lives with us, he's 6 years old, and we've been teaching him never give up."

Hanson says he's disappointed, but chalks it up to a learning experience.

"I live with failure on a daily basis," he says. "It's just a matter of putting your jacket on, and going and fixing what you have to do, and get this thing back on track."

Hanson is already planning ahead for how to make next year's sculpture bigger, better and more stable.

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