FAIRBANKS Mary Ann and Vic Miller move around a lot, so they figure their time in Fairbanks might be their only chance to learn ice sculpting.
And when a world-class sculptor offered a course for beginners, the Millers weren't about to let the opportunity pass them by.
The Millers are two of eight Fairbanksans who signed up for an introductory course taught by sculpting champion Vladimir Zhikhartsev through the Community Schools program sponsored by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
Like most of Zhikhartsev's students, Mary Ann Miller said she and her husband had never tried to do anything creative with ice.
But by the start of Wednesday's class, the last in the three-session course, she had a distinguishable outline of a puffin that she had created out of a 2-foot-long by 1-foot-wide chunk of ice.
''The ice is a lot easier to work with than I thought it would be,'' she said.
Across the table, husband Vic was smoothing the head of a Dall sheep sculpture, wondering how he would ever finish the curly set of horns he planned to attach.
Students paid $90 to participate in the class. Zhikhartsev, who also operates Infinite Ice, a private business offering instruction in ice sculpture, watercolor and figure drawing, supplied the ice and most of the necessary materials. Because of safety concerns, students used only chisels, and not the power tools used by advanced carvers.
Zhikhartsev started the students on a warmer medium.
''You have to use the clay model at the beginning,'' said Zhikartsev, a native of Russia.
Student Kristi Bulock sat at a picnic table chipping out toes on the sculpture of a dog she created.
Bulock, a firefighter who's also worked with several other art media, said attending the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks every year never fails to inspire her. The chance to learn about carving from someone who consistently turns out some of the best work at the event presented a special opportunity.
One of the first tips she learned was to patch up carving blunders with an essential tool for any ice sculptor ''Arctic super glue,'' or that substance more commonly known as water.
Zhikhartsev, who travels throughout the world for carving competitions, said he hopes the students come away from the class with an appreciation of the wonderful images that can be developed from a block of ice. Because of the small size of the sculptures they create in class, he added, the students can keep their first project around.
''You can store it in the freezer and when the relatives and friends come to party, you can take it out and put it on the table as the centerpiece.''
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