During this time of the year people are bundling up, lighting up the fireplaces, and covering up with the biggest afghan they can find. Not me. Usually this time of the year brings ice carving. For the past couple of years I have carved competitively in NICA (National Ice Carving Association) sanctioned events all over Michigan. It’s one of those sports that not a lot of people do or are even exposed to. I was lucky enough to take a class while I was still in school up at GRCC. During the class I was asked to carve for the school team, and accepted.
This sport is becoming more popular in the food industry not for the competitions, but for the displays. Ice is used for centerpiece decoration, shrimp cocktail, fruit, sushi, and ice bars stocked full of liquor. These are just a few examples. Originally though, when it all started it was use as light lanterns. In the 1600s, native hunters and fishermen of the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, on the border of Russia, designed ice lanterns for dark winter nights. They filled buckets with water to make ice, then slid it out, dug a hole in it and put a candle in the hole to make a lantern. The trend spread, and people started hanging decorated lanterns from homes and parading them in carnivals. In 1897, the Trans Siberian Railway was extended through the small Chinese fishing town of Harbin in Heilongjiang, once occupied by Russia. As a result of the traffic, Harbin grew into a cosmopolitan city. With below freezing winds from Siberia, and ice from the frozen Songhua River, Harbin became the home of the annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Currently, this festival features the work of thousands of artists from all over the world.
Back then they used little ice scoops or make-shift knives to do the lanterns, and now it’s chainsaws, dremels, grinders, sanders, 3 foot chisels, aluminum, and irons. There is fusing blocks together to make the illusion of it being alive, and hundreds of garnishing techniques to make it look completely real. The sport has come a long way, and it’s a total rush to sit in front of a thousand people and create something beautiful out of a three hundred pound ice cube.
If you ever get up from the fireplace and can handle a couple of hours in the cold I highly suggest that you make it to a competition, or an event with sculptures. It will make you appreciate the art, time and love that go into each one of these displays that are just going to melt away.