Icing the competitionImagine a sculpture of two totem poles behind three horses rearing up on their hind legs, and an American Indian woman floating up out of the center, holding a dream catcher.
By: By Keith Grauman, The Republican Eagle
By Keith Grauman
Pierce County Herald
Imagine a sculpture of two totem poles behind three horses rearing up on their hind legs, and an American Indian woman floating up out of the center, holding a dream catcher.
Now, imagine it 24 feet tall and made out of 40,000 pounds of solid ice.
Brain freeze setting in yet?
Greg Schmotzer, Red Wing native now living in Hastings, and Chris Swarbrick of Ice Occasions in Ellsworth recently won top honors for the third year in a row in the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s multi-block ice carving competition. Right now their sights are set on an even bigger prize.
They’re heading to Alaska Feb. 28 to compete in the 2009 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks. People from more than 15 countries will be competing.
Schmotzer and Swarbrick are teaming with two other carvers who also compete regularly at the Winter Carnival - Wisconsin residents Bob Halverson and Zoli Akacsos, who is originally from Romania.
“Yeah, there’s a little rivalry there,” Schmotzer said.
The four will have from March 1 to 6 - about five-and-a-half days - to carve their sculpture, which they have titled “And They Called Her Spirit,” out of 10 blocks of ice weighing more than 4,000 pounds each. The blocks measure 6 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet. feet by four feet, by three feet. One of the blocks alone equals about 14 of the size blocks they carve at the St. Paul contest.
“It’s at least five times larger than anything we’ve done before,” Schmotzer said.
How does a person prepare for such a challenge?
“Buy about six 12-packs of energy drinks,” laughed Schmotzer’s wife, Sharyl. Teams will work around the clock to complete their sculptures by the deadline.
On the World Ice Championships Web site, there are time-lapse videos from the 2008 competition showing some of the staging strategies and techniques other carvers use. Schmotzer has been watching those in hopes of picking up a few ideas.
He excited about getting to watch Japanese carver Junichi Nakamura in action. Schmotzer has admired Nakamura’s work since he began carving ice in 1996.
“He really pushes the limits,” Schmotzer explained. “He usually crashes, but before he crashes, the stuff he makes is incredible. ... It’s his whole style. His ice just flows and everything works together, except for gravity. His carvings have a lot of movement.”
At the Alaska competition, heavy machinery operators will move the blocks around. The team will even out the blocks, which are not uniform because because the ice comes from lakes and ponds. Then they’ll stack them in the rough shape of the sculpture and use water and nail boards to make them adhere to each other. Next will come scaffolding and the process of carving the ice to form the design elements.
Each carver is assigned a portion of the sculpture. Schmotzer will sculpt two of the horse heads; Halverson will carve the woman; Akacsos will probably do the totem poles, and Swarbrick will create the third horse’s head and all the horses’ legs. The whole team will work on other elements, including a base with the name of their sponsor, Jonsered Chainsaws.
The team will be shopping some tools to Alaska. Schmotzer said he uses chisels, die grinders, angle grinders, chainsaws, torches and even household irons to create his carvings.
His newest tool is a homemade water gun crafted of PVC tubes that will be used to inject water in between the ice blocks so they will freeze together.
“It‚s definitely going to be an adventure,” he said.
There will be a Web cam trained on Schmotzer and the sculpture 24 hours a day during the competition so people can watch progress. People can go to www.icealaska.com after March 1 to get a look.
The first-place team will take home $4,000. Schmotzer hopes he also will bring home new techniques he can use for next year’s St. Paul competition.