Bob Eckstein is a writer, illustrator, New Yorker cartoonist and, according to online magazine and travel company Atlas Obscura, a “national treasure.” As if that isn’t enough accolades, he is also the world’s leading snowman expert.

This title was not due to his snow-creature construction skills. He earned the honor after spending seven years researching the mystery of the history and origin of snowpeople. His resulting book, The History of the Snowman, shares fascinating findings.

According to the book, an early (and perhaps the first) depiction of a snowman was found scribbled in the margin of a manuscript from 1318. This image, showing a snow figure with quite a curvaceous bottom, was racy for its time. However, this was not the lewdest snowfolk in history. That honor went to residents of Brussels, who, during their 1511 winter of death, created caricatures of well-known citizens and pornographic snow people as acts of political protest. The government left these up to placate and amuse the hungry masses.

A more talented (and well known) artist, 19-year-old Michelangelo, had his own naked snowman story. Commissioned by the ruler of Florence, Italy, to sculpt a snowman in his courtyard, Michelangelo not surprisingly created a masterpiece. This beautiful snow sculpture was called the “greatest snowman ever built,” and might have been a dry run for his famous marble David.

Everyone, it seems, has a snowman story. Hans Christian Anderson’s 1861 tale The Snowman tells of a snow romance where the main character fell in love with a stove. An impossible coupling, the snowman lamented his fate: “The thing we love most can eventually destroy us, yet we happily sacrifice ourselves.”

Snow figures must not always be made in our image, and perhaps they shouldn’t be, since they generally won’t fool anyone. In the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, snowmen were left to guard the fort while the on-duty soldiers were in the local pub. The enemy walked right in and killed more than 60 residents.

In China, Buddhas were a popular subject for snow characters, and religious icons were also a common feature — just about anything could be created from the falling snow. Even when humans are the inspiration, different cultures have different styles. In Asia, snowmen have two main body parts, differing from our North American standard of three.

Timing is everything when it comes to successful snowperson construction. Snow that is too wet or too dry will not be good raw materials, so it is a no-go to build a snowperson in the dry North Pole. A warm afternoon after a snowfall is optimal, if the snow is approaching its melting point when it becomes moist and compactable. Powdered snow is good for skiing, but not so much for building. And if temperatures drop too much, a crust will form atop the snow, making for difficult times for snowman builders.

The good news is that these works of art need little in the way of expensive supplies or tools. The raw materials, as one saying goes, fall from heaven unassembled, or one flake at a time. And if your work of art isn’t as good as Michelangelo’s or as famous as Frosty, don’t despair, because as someone else observed, snowmen never die, they just melt away.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.