A Riverside Middle School art teacher is using her snow sculpting talents to inspire her students and make her neighbors smile.
For as long as Katina Gustafson can remember, she's been using the snow as a form of expressing her artistic ability.
"I grew up in western Coventry and I did make snow sculptures when I was younger but not many people saw them when you live out in the middle of the woods," said Gustafson. "I made a bruins hockey player in 2009, I spelled out 'I love you' in the snow. I think that was around Valentine's Day in 2010 and it's been a yearly thing."
A few years ago, the 25-year-old moved to Columbia Avenue in Coventry. Her home resides on a corner, so more people have been able to see her snow art.
"You're never too old to play in the snow and we live in New England. We definitely want to be outside when we can," said Gustafson. "That really wasn't the case last year because in 2020, we really didn't get much snow last year."
In an effort to raise her neighbor's spirits, Gustafson said she found other ways to use her artistic abilities to spread joy throughout her neighborhood.
"During the summer, I did chalk drawings and paintings in the windows to reach out to the neighborhood and when then we had the most recent snow storm, I was ready to get back out in the snow," she said.
Gustafson has created a lot of memorable snow pieces over the last few years, including a donut and a coffee cup from Starbucks, a gum ball machine, and gnome home.
This year, because there's been so much snow, she's done several.
"This year, I did Baby Yoda but that melted, and I did the chair because of the Bernie meme everyone was putting everywhere. I decided to make my own," said Gustafson. "From there, I made the dinosaur. It was a popular item with children in the neighborhood and then with this most recent snow storm that we got. We have Mr. Potato Head, which is a Rhode Island icon."
Gustafson said each piece typically takes about three hours depending on the texture of the snow. She used to include spray paint and coloring but found it to be messy.
For inspiration, she typically posts on her Facebook art page, "Anchored by Art" asking for recommendations of what to do next.
"I'm 25 years old but at heart, I'm definitely a middle schooler, which is why I teach middle school," said Gustafson.
Gustafson said she is enjoying creating the snow sculptures because she's a fan of practicing what she preaches to her students.
"I want them to get outside, and they think me doing this, they think it's super cool I hope they're being inspired," she said. "I'll offer extra credit or encourage their creative side. I think it's working. I got a photo last night from students who made a huge snow man."
Gustafson said she understands some of her students might not have money or the tools to create some forms of art, but with snow it's easy and fun.
"You don't need a professional quality of material to go out and have fun. Something as simple as snow and sand which we have in New England are great materials to work with," she said. "There are so many forms of art and I tell my students you might not like every art form and that's OK. It just means you haven't found the one that's for you yet."
Gustafson said her snow pieces have become an awaited attraction in her neighborhood.
"While I'm out here working, I have people stop and say, 'I absolutely loved your gumball machine one' or 'I can't wait every time we get the snow the only good part is seeing what you're making in the yard. That's why I come out and play in the snow,'" she said. "I'm not home during the day sometimes so my family will tell me, 'This little kid came and sat in your chair and took a picture with the dinosaur and his little sister stood next to him. It's just great because these are memories these kids are making and maybe the next time, they see snowflakes falling they are going to challenge themselves to make a snow dinosaur or something. It's not just for kids, adults can do it, too."