Fairbanks ice artists go into ice sculpture business

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- As if six months of frozen fingers aren't enough, two local artists want to make ice sculpting a year-round art form.

Heather Brown and Steve Brice, who have worked side by side in the World Ice Art Championships and decorated the city with outdoor ice art for years, have joined to create indoor ice sculptures for parties, weddings, conventions and banquets.

''We're trying to find the right niche to do our art and make some money,'' Brown said. ''This works for other people in other places. It'll happen here.''

The irony of year-round ice art not being in demand in frigid Fairbanks isn't lost on Brice and Brown. Nor is the idea of having two premier, award-winning artists carving tabletop swans.

''You have to make money to make art,'' Brice said.

Since starting ''Brown and Brice Ice'' this summer, Brown has produced a kneeling firefighter in ice for a firemen's ball, entwined hearts for a wedding reception and a scene featuring wine and grapes for the first anniversary party of a downtown restaurant. Prices range from $250 to $300, and the sculptures normally last five to seven hours before melting beyond recognition.

The sculpture for the restaurant was created on site, which added energy to the occasion, owner Frank Eagle said.

''It's a flashy thing for special occasions, but it's not inexpensive,'' Eagle said. ''Spending money on something that melts is tough.''

Even so, Eagle has asked Brown and Brice to return in December to construct an arctic entry entirely of ice.

Brown is using a freezer at the Fairbanks Ice Museum as her studio until outdoor temperatures drop. Her medium is a 300-pound block of Fairbanks ice, kept frozen under sawdust all year at O'Grady's Pond at the Ice Park. Tuesday morning she was transforming a cube into a Victorian vase.

Brice is recovering from a neck injury, and is acting as an adviser. He keeps busy creating new tools for carving ice and recently invented a snow-making attachment.

Since Brown is accustomed to working on a larger-than-life scale, creating 3-foot-high ice sculptures requires skills she doesn't normally employ.

''There's a smaller range of error,'' she said. ''Using these big tools is very challenging. And because it's more of a relief style there's a different way to think about things.''

Even though the artists have branched out, they still plan to make outdoor sculptures for local businesses as soon as temperatures allow. They also will make time for the championships in March.

Brice, 40, has carved ice around the world and represented Fairbanks twice at the ice carving demonstrations at the Olympics. He came to the area in 1990 to do construction work and was introduced to ice sculpting. Brown, 33, began carving ice four years ago. She grew up in Fairbanks and earned an art degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Bronze casting and Native arts were her areas of emphasis.

While the two sculptors are excited about their new business venture, they have an even bigger dream for the future -- an ice hotel. They have been discussing their strategy with owners of similar structures in Finland, Canada and Sweden and foresee a palace of ice where people sleep on reindeer skins, visit an art gallery made of ice and drink from ice mugs in an ice bar.

They aren't disturbed that the hotel would have to be rebuilt each year.

''It is absolutely biodegradable,'' Brown said.

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