Giants of ice erupt from the snow-covered Earth, towering over the crowd. An enormous snake-like sea creature made of sand winds its way around a beach, weaving between sunbathers. A small, wooden owl peers eerily with large, all-knowing eyes from a perch in a shadowed corner. Are these scenes from folk tales and epic poems of long ago? Though each could be, instead larger-than-life snow, ice, wood, and sand sculptures like these are the creations of John Martinez and his partners at the mARTinez Studio Art Club in Bridgeport.
For Martinez, the idea to participate in events that would have him carving gigantic snow sculptures came during his time as a student teacher at the then-South Middle School in Saginaw. The teacher Martinez was working with was an organizer of the snow events in Frankenmuth at that time, and he encouraged Martinez to get involved.
“I would spend most of my winter trying to stay out of the cold, but I wanted a job. I agreed reluctantly,” recalls Martinez. “I fell in love with snow sculpting. It was the most brutal, hardcore outdoor activity I had ever participated in, and it was the greatest challenge artistically that I had ever had.”
The first year Martinez spent working on a snow sculpture for the carving contest of Frankenmuth’s Snowfest, he worked with a new team. Together, they won the state competition. From there, Martinez continued to enter competitions, creating sculptures around the state and, eventually, throughout the country.
The idea to start the Art Club came about when Martinez decided to leave teaching. He was hanging out with a friend when they both pulled out their sketch pads to practice drawing. The duo started trying out new things: 3-D drawings on the garage floor, small sand sculptures, and more. “We started practicing on how to use art to make things happen,” Martinez says, “and more and more people heard about it. They started dropping by to get involved.”
As the informal group grew, plans for what would become the mARTinez Studio Art Club gained momentum. “We all started out carving snow; that’s the common thread,” Martinez explains. “I started competing in 1995, brought my sons into it in the early 2000s, and started competing all over in 1999.”
Martinez has focused the Art Club on family, building it with his wife, Melanie, and family and friends Billy Budd, Kristi Englehart, Jonathon Martinez, Darren (Martinez) Murphy, Madison Martinez, Jay McCullough (Pirate Jay), Luke Blohm, Stephen Hargash, Brandon Markle, and Dave Berger.
The opportunities the Art Club has to make lasting impressions extend beyond the sculptures created for competitions and commissions. The Art Club offers its members’ collective expertise to work with students from elementary to high school classrooms, demonstrating techniques and explaining processes. The group also works with community, after-school, and therapy programs, traveling all over Michigan and around the United States.
“Family is my inspiration,” Martinez says. “My first thought is my family. Our whole group is family-centered, which makes the process of creating art—from pooling our imaginations and ideas to planning to doing—a fun, amazing experience. It’s what we look forward to.”
And fans of the group have a lot to look forward to, too, admiring both the giant-sized, mythical creations and small, legendary projects of the mARTinez Studio Art Club at events and venues around the community.
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