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Working under the cover of darkness

Rock Falls family behind late-night snow sculptures

ROCK FALLS – An outdoor fun, family adventure has turned into a mystery. Snow sculptures have been popping up overnight, seemingly out of nowhere.

Using their passion for art and the sparkling snow as a blank canvas, the Gragert family has made four snow sculptures this season.

The four boys, Gaston, 22, Bradon, 19, Kylon, 15, and Nolan, 10, and their father John, 46, leave mom Becky to “a nice quiet night with a Lifetime movie,” she joked, as “they go out to play in the snow.”

Each night when there is enough snow on the ground, they set out to a different location and build a massive snow sculpture. 

Thursday night, they started at 10:30. Together they shoveled dozens of 10-gallon totes of snow, turned them upside-down and stacked them like bricks. The whole time they shoveled, they discussed what to make.

Once an agreement was reached, John lightly sketched, using spray paint, the outer edges of a bird. The boys, who do the lion’s share of the sculpting and painting, began carving by 11:15.

Using only snow shovels, ice scrapers, a plastic cup, their hands, a lot of ingenuity, and a few cans of spray paint, they completed their project by midnight.

Tunneling through the lower part of the mound of snow with a red plastic cup to create a hole for the opening of a talon, the youngest Gragert, Nolan, carved attentively as his older and taller brothers worked on the upper parts.

Snow fell repeatedly on his Angry Bird hat, though he never missed a beat. As he spray-painted the intricate details, his father broke his concentration momentarily to say, “It looks good. … Baby, you have it all over your finger.”

Laughing and looking at his black-stained fingertip, Nolan shrugged his shoulders and reached for the green can to paint a leaf.

Many Rock Falls residents awoke Friday morning to the oversized bird in front of Family Stone Memorials, on Fourth Street. The business is owned by the oldest of Becky and John Gragert’s sons, Gaston, who opened the personalized monument shop last week.

His mom and brothers work with him. 

“We can all engrave and draw,” Gaston said. “Like with the snow, we know what we expect from each other, and our standard for work is high. Plus, it’s always fun for us. It’s not really work for us to do. It’s more of a passion for art.”

Their snowy creations have gone viral on Facebook. At first, John said he wanted to keep the sculptors a secret. “But the way Facebook is, it kind of went viral getting shared hundreds of times in a few hours.”

He added: “We strike at night. One night they go to bed and don’t see anything, and the next morning, boom, there it is.”

Gaston said he loved every aspect of the sculptures.

“I love the artwork, and that it is something the community can see,” he said. “It keeps the people looking for the next one. It doesn’t take that long to do. For us, it’s like going sledding almost, like any other family outing.” 

Bradon said his favorite piece so far is the wolf.

“It is really easy to create something out of nothing,” he said. “I was surprised how quickly the mallard in Lawrence Park was melting. I was a little bummed, but I knew we would do more.”

Kylon explained that the work allowed him to be even more creative than his drawing does.

“In a small space when I’m drawing, it’s different than being outside, where I have more space,” he said. “I can build as I go, and I really like getting outdoors, especially in the winter.”

Standing beside the bare sculpture, the boys shook cans of spray paint, one in each hand, so they would not freeze.

Nolan said he enjoys snow sculpting “because we are out there as a family, and I like sharing my art, carving the details, and painting.”

The backside always has a painted question mark left by Nolan.

John added, “Like The Riddler, he leaves our calling card at the scene.”

They said they enjoy surprising their neighbors with a new work of art in a different location every chance they get. It makes each of them happy and proud to share their passion while having some family fun.

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