Frozen Creativity: Commercial Ice Sculptures for Order

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By Amy Taylor

USAICE, formerly of Manassas, Virginia, is now located in Baltimore, Maryland, but proudly serves its former hometown. Sculptor Chris Wyer has been sculpting ice since 1992. He runs the business with three other ice sculptors.

Wyer was first introduced to ice sculpture through his training at the Westin hotel chain. He was a chef by trade, and part of the hotel’s apprenticeship included ice sculpting. However, he learned most of his ice sculpting through a correspondence course.

Wyer said, “Back in those days, you just had to send away for different tools, and you would watch VHS tapes through mail order. Then you got together with other guys, and there was an established trade show network. You would get together and exchange ideas.”

His favorite sculptures to create are more challenging pieces like human figures. Clients send in pictures, and he and his partners replicate them in ice. He also enjoys working on food buffets with lighting layers and shelves and ice bars.

USA Ice, ice sculptures

Clients can pick from images on the company’s website or send in photos to give the ice sculptor ideas. (Photo provided by USAIce)

When he creates an ice sculpture, Wyer starts with a reference image. Clients will choose one of the reference images off USAICE’s website or send in pictures of their own. Sometimes they will send several pictures, and Wyer will create a new design based on components of those pictures. He then lays out the designs using AutoCAD software and figures out how many blocks of ice he needs. He also factors in the length of the event when building his design. If it’s a longer event, he factors more melting into his sculpture design, making portions of the sculpture thicker.

His personal favorite piece that he created was for an event at the Library of Congress: “We did a Kremlin-like building with onion domes that was about 16 by 16 feet for the Russian Embassy.”

His formerly small business was purchased by Rosedale Ice, which has a fleet of refrigerated trucks that allow Wyer to service a larger customer base. Customers who want to order custom sculptures can email their reference pictures and budget to info@usaice.com.

Ice Sculptures on Display

If you’re looking for an amazing family-friendly event, view the artistry of two million pounds of ice sculptures and displays at National Harbor. Just a short trip up the Route 95 corridor from Prince William County, you’ll find ICE! ® featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

This is a walk-through holiday attraction. Wear your cold weather gear because the temperature inside is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit according to the Gaylord Convention Center’s website. This is an annual show with a different theme each year. The ice sculptures this year will depict the classic cartoon story, A Charlie Brown Christmas. There will be a full nativity scene made of crystal clear ice.

The displays are all hand-carved by 40 artisans from the city of Harbin in Northeast China. The temperatures in this city are below freezing for about half of the year. This region of China has a long-standing tradition of ice sculpture that dates to the late Ming and early Qing dynasties of Imperial China. To navigate during long winter nights, hunters learned to freeze ice lanterns to guide them.

This tradition of ice lanterns evolved into an Ice Lantern Festival held annually in the winter. Harbin citizens would cut ice blocks from the Songhua River and carve intricate ice lanterns. Informal competitions sprang up from this practice as families competed to see who would create the best carvings.

The artisans use three different types of ice to create the sculptures displayed at ICE. Clear “Crystal” ice is the most difficult for them to create using highly filtered deionized water. They freeze 45 gallons of water slowly, over three days, into a 400-pound ice block. The molecules line up similarly to a crystal or diamond due to the slow freezing process, which gives the ice its crystal clear look.

White ice is easier for the workers to create as it doesn’t have to be frozen slowly. Freezing quickly gives the ice a cloudy look, like compacted snow.

Finally, colored ice is used to accent and highlight many of the sculptures. They create this ice by adding food coloring during the freezing process and stirring constantly to ensure the color is consistent throughout the final product.

In addition to the stunning works of art, the event will feature a gingerbread decorating corner, nightly indoor snowfall, photos with Santa, a Christmas village, ice skating, Breakfast with Charlie Brown and friends, Potomac Express miniature train ride, a nightly atrium tree lighting and many more fun holiday activities, according to a video on the Gaylord National YouTube channel.

The event runs from Nov. 16, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019. To purchase tickets, visit tickets.gaylordnational.com/ice.

Amy Taylor is a contributing writer for Prince William Living magazine.

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