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Progress: Art and the Chill Factor

1. Treasure Island chef and ice carver Greg Schmotzer begins the sculpting process by cutting a 300-pound, 20-by-40-by-10-inch block of ice down to size. “The ice is delicate,” he said, “and doesn't hold weight well.” 1 / 6
2. He irons a design template onto the large piece of ice before doing any shaping.2 / 6
3. A rough outline of the sculpture is carved out with a chainsaw. Although there is a template, there is also the risk of the ice breaking, resulting in a “smaller carving or starting over,” Schmotzer adds. 3 / 6
4. Schmotzer prepares to join two blocks of ice together by evening out the bottom of the carved ice chunk. He uses regular wood carving tools along with some unique handmade tools to create his ice sculptors. 4 / 6
5. By using a refurbished squirt gun, Schmotzer is able to delicately squirt water into the cracks of ice. “You have to go very slow,” he explained. “Otherwise the ice will crack.” He joins ice blocks together this way.5 / 6
6. After completing the majority of the shaping, Schmotzer uses a variety of drill bits to add detail and texture to complete the piece the frozen piece of art. Here, definition is added into a wing of an eagle. 6 / 6

Treasure Island Resort & Casino hosts a plethora of celebrations from weddings to corporate events — and many of the guests want an ice sculpture. The man behind the frozen works of art is Greg Schmotzer.

Originally from Red Wing, the Hastings-based chef started sculpting ice off a bet from an executive chef 17 years ago.

“He bet me I couldn’t carve ice after seeing me do some fruit and vegetable carvings,” Schmotzer explained.

The executive chef brought in a block of ice, Schmotzer carved it and it ended up as the centerpiece of the buffet table that night.

Carving edible objects has always brought him enjoyment. “It was something different and came pretty easy to me,” he said.

Over the years, Schmotzer has gone from carving tiny blocks to massive chunks of ice.

In fact, the self-taught ice artist has been a regular competitor at St. Paul’s annual Winter Carnival — placing every one of the 14 times he has entered.

From business logos to a life-size statue of Elvis, Schmotzer’s ice carvings usually end up being a main attraction for event-goers.

“People take their picture with the carvings,” he said. “They love it.”

The downfall of the job is perhaps the extreme carving conditions. He said at one point, while sculpting at the Winter Carnival he used 10 pairs of hand-warmers throughout his winter clothing and was still frozen. “I was more beaten by the weather than the competition.”

This story originally appeared in part 3 of the 2014 Red Wing Republican Eagle Progress Edition, titled Start to Finish. The three-part series features local businesses, artisans and community groups describing their step-by-step processes. 

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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