Ice carvers face slick competition

Frozen in time

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006


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  Sea birds fly among abstract wave shapes in the sculpture "Ride the Wind" by Melanie and Ben Firth of Anchor Point. Photo by Tulia Belton and Rhonda

A moose rides the front end of a truck in the sculpture "Rear Ended" by John Iverson and Scott Hanson of the central peninsula at the World Ice Art Championships held in Fairbanks on Feb. 28.

Photo by Tulia Belton and Rhonda

Area artists are returning from Fairbanks this week after an icy reception at a worldwide art competition in Fairbanks. At the World Ice Art Championships the competition is stiff, and not just because they’re working in sub-zero temperatures.

But stiff competition at the ice sculpting championships helps sharpen the skills if not the tools, said Scott Hanson, a Soldotna ice carver who participated in the competition.

“You can’t get any better if you don’t have any competition,” he said.

Ice carvers from all over the world descended on Fairbanks with their chisels, saws, grinders and Dremels to transform blocks of pond ice into everything from abstract sculptures to mythical creatures.

Hanson said he and his partner, John Iverson, erected a mini ice fishing shack near their sculptures for thawing electrical tools and fingers in weather that sometimes dipped to -35 degrees.

“That kind of takes a lot out of a guy,” he said. “By the end of the sixth day you’re kind of getting to the numb stage.”

Despite brutal temperatures, artists worked long hours on their projects, working 12 and sometimes even 24 hours in a day to make the most of the time they had available.

Many artists came prepared with their own specialized tools, some of which were custom made, such as personalized Dremel bits.

Hanson said he bought one of his all-time favorite tools at a feed store. The curling brush, a series of jagged-toothed blades attached to a handle and used to groom horses, works great for achieving fine textures in ice, he said.

“It leaves a nice finishing touch on things,” he said. “It looks like fur when you’re done.”

A popular tool among some carvers is a clothing iron, said Ben Firth, a carver from Anchor Point who also participated in the Fairbanks competition.

“You can smooth out a flat surface really nice with one,” he said.

Some carvers, however, like to keep things basic.

Hanson said that a team of artists from China used primarily chisels to carve away at their ice.

Heavy reliance on chisels takes extra skill and can also make a difference artistically when it comes to the finishing touches, Firth said.

“I always like to see that. It’s neat to see the skill they have using just hand tools,” he said. “You can tell if they used chisels on the finish as opposed to a grinder.”

Firth competed with his wife, Melanie, in one of the championship’s two main events, the single block classic, to carve a piece they titled “Ride the Wind.”


Sea birds fly among abstract wave shapes in the sculpture "Ride the Wind" by Melanie and Ben Firth of Anchor Point.

Photo by Tulia Belton and Rhonda

Firth said he and his wife worked an average of 12 hours a day during the three days they were given to complete the sculpture, an abstract piece featuring wave shapes and sea birds.

Hanson and Iverson participated in two of the events, the single block classic and multi-block competition.

Their single block sculpture, a piece titled “Rear Ended” that features a moose getting hit by a truck, was a favorite with a lot of spectators, Hanson said.

“Everybody could kind of relate to it,” he said.

For their multi-block sculpting project they worked with two Anchorage artists, Tom Lewando and Jim Brown, to recreate the characters from the movie “Ice Age” and a cameraman filming them.

Iverson said the trickiest points in creating the sculptures was “gluing” on extra pieces, such as the horns of the moose and tusks of the mastodon in their “Ice Age” project.

To “glue” on additional pieces of ice, artists make tight joints between the main body of a sculpture and the piece they want to attach, surround it with snow and inject water into the seam.

Iverson said the technique is called “filling the aquarium” because the snow acts like the walls of an aquarium as you fill the snow-packed joint with water.

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