GREENFIELD — If only they could do his bidding.
Poking up from the snow, in cheerful hues of bright yellow and blue, are more than a dozen minions, grinning up at the passers-by who stop to gawk or grab a photo.
It’s hard telling who derives more joy from the scene in Rick Horton’s front yard — “Despicable Me” fans or the artist who created the movie’s beloved characters out of snow.
Horton’s house, which sits at the corner of Forest Avenue and State Street in Greenfield, is no different than any of its neighbors in the summer months. But in winter, drivers tend to linger at the stop sign nearby whenever there’s snow on the ground.
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Horton calls himself “the snow artist” because every year when the white stuff piles up high enough, he makes something beautiful out of the worst that winter can dump on the front lawn.
And we’re not talking about the average snowman. His creations are more elaborate, often standing several feet high and filling the front of his corner lot.
Horton often watches from his living room window as smiling strangers drive past his house, some stopping to take pictures from the front seat, some hopping out of the car for a better look. Sometimes, he’ll even step outside to introduce himself if a group seems particularly interested.
His sculptures are a colorful sight on a dull winter day and, even though they are only temporary, Horton said he knows they bring people joy, so he’ll keep making them as long as he’s able.
“I’ve always been a creative person,” he said. “People come by here every year to see them. Sometimes it’s like a traffic jam out front, but that’s the payoff.”
The sculptures started on an afternoon in 1997 when Horton and his daughter were outside building a snowman. It was such good packing snow, he remembers, he got a little carried away. He decided to form and paint Homer Simpson instead, right there in the front yard.
And the neighbors went nuts.
“People said they loved it,” Horton said. “Even in the summer, they were still talking about it.”
So, he kept creating. There have been giant cats, lizards and fish, Indy cars and UFOs. His favorite was a 50-foot rattlesnake that spiraled its way through his front yard and around the corner.
Horton tries to make something reflective of whatever is popular at the time, like the iPod he made in 2010 or this year’s project, a group of minions from the hit animated movie, “Despicable Me.”
Planning the sculptures starts with a quick glance at the extended forecast: If it doesn’t look like the snow will stick around long, he won’t bother trying to build; but if he hears a big snowstorm is coming with cold temperatures to follow, he knows to be ready.
The sculptures usually take an average of four hours to build. And there’s no free-handing here. Horton is a man with a plan.
He draws what he wants the final project to look like before heading outside, then uses the sketch as a sort of map.
This year’s minions have been by far the most difficult, he said. He started building Sunday around 9 a.m. and did not finish until nearly 11 p.m. He also spent roughly $45 on spray paint, when it usually costs $10.
He used stencils cut out of old cereal boxes to keep a consistent look, a curse of his perfectionist ways. And when it came to minions, he knew just one wouldn’t do.
“This one was a lot more work that I thought,” he said. “But I knew if I was going to do minions, there needed to be a lot of them.”
Barry Clevenger and his wife, Monika, were on their way out of town when they saw Horton in his front yard working on the minion sculptures. They made sure to make a slight detour past the house on their way home to see the finished product.
“He’s clearly very creative,” Clevenger said, adding that they’re always anxious to see what Horton’s annual creation will be. So far, Clevenger said, the minions are his favorite.
By Monday afternoon, word had spread, and the minions were already drawing visitors to the Hortons’ yard. Two or three school buses even buzzed past to give the young riders an extra treat, Horton’s wife, Melissa, said.
Although the family has been apprehensive about it, no one has ever damaged one of Horton’s sculptures, no matter how popular it’s gotten.
“We’ve always worried about that, but it has never been a problem,” she said. “I think people just like them too much.”
But all good things must come to an end.
The sculptures typically last for a week before melting or falling down, Horton said. It won’t be too long, however, before the sun pops out for good, and people start asking him what he’ll make next winter.
But it’s only once the snow begins to fall again that Horton will get to thinking.
And spray painting.
And eventually, his front yard will turn into one of the most popular sites in town.
“Everybody looks forward to it,” his wife said.