Here are the buttons for the 2024 St. Paul Winter Carnival – Twin Cities

Even if the weather hasn’t caught up, winter has officially arrived — because the 2024 St. Paul Winter Carnival buttons have been unveiled.

The four buttons, designed by artist Kao Lee Thao, were made public Saturday night at the annual tree lighting ceremony at Union Depot.

Local painter and animator Kao Lee Thao, who designed the commemorative buttons for the 2024 St. Paul Winter Carnival, poses with a 3D project. Thao is first-generation Hmong-American and grew up in St. Paul and Savage. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Winter Carnival)

Thao, 47, is a painter and a partner at Folklore Studio, a 3D animation company. She has also created public art installations throughout the Twin Cities, including a fiberglass project at Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul and murals at Boom Island in Minneapolis and Mississippi Creative Arts School in St. Paul.

You can buy the buttons online at wintercarnival.com/buttons or at businesses including Cub Foods and Spire Credit Union locations, plus the following:

  • CandyLand: 435 N. Wabasha St.
  • City & County Credit Union: 1661 E. Cope Ave., Maplewood
  • A Johnson & Sons Florist: 1738 Grand Ave.
  • Bright Corner Gift Shop: 640 Jackson St.
  • Landmark Center Gift Shop: 75 W. 5th St.
  • Red Balloon: 891 Grand Ave.
  • Kowalski’s: 1261 Grand Ave.

Each button is $5; a four-pack is available for $19. (Those are the same prices as last year.) Four-packs sold during the Winter Carnival, for $20, also come with a limited-edition snowflake pin, until they run out.

All buttons also come with a card that contains the carnival schedule as well as a new “Winter Carnival Fun Pass,” which gets you deals at various local businesses — specifics are still under wraps — and an entry into a raffle for resort stays, concert tickets and other prizes.

Thao is first-generation Hmong American; her parents fled Laos for the Twin Cities with $5 in their pocket, Thao said. She herself grew up in St. Paul and Savage, and regularly attended the Winter Carnival. In fact, one of her button designs, featuring a stylized version of downtown’s Landmark Center, is inspired by her elementary-school-age memories of seeing the 1986 ice palace.

Her artistic style is known for its bright colors and dreamlike swirls. In the button designs, she subtly incorporated traditional Hmong textile motifs into background textures and snowflake shapes, she said.

“I always paint with vibrant colors that reflect my Hmong culture,” she said. “It’s important to make sure that the artwork I create speaks about my past ancestors, and also inspires youth to remember our culture.”

Kao Lee Thao paints “Hmong Story Cloth,” a rose sculpture with Hmong-inspired designs, one of twenty which will be installed around the city of Roseville in late June, Sunday, June 7, 2020. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Several of Thao’s highest-profile projects have incorporated Hmong themes. As one of several artists who painted massive roses for the show “Roseville in Bloom — 20 in 2020,” hers was inspired by Hmong story cloths. In 2018, Thao painted a sculpture of “Peanuts” character Lucy wearing Hmong dress as part of a gift to St. Paul’s sister city of Changsha, China.

And whether she’s painting, creating digital animations or building larger-than-life steel or fiberglass sculptures — or designing buttons — a major goal is for both herself and viewers to feel they’re on a journey toward something magical.

“For me, storytelling is (my) art form,” she said. “I’m always going where the art is calling for me.”

This year’s Winter Carnival, the 138th festival, will take place from Jan. 25 to Feb. 3, 2024.

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