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Minnesota ice sculptors embrace friendly competition

December 24, 2018
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AVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, DEC. 22-23 - In this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 photo, ice sculptors work on their pieces during an ice sculpting competition at the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Sibley Park in Mankato, Minn. Although competing against each other, the group said it's more of a friendly competition than anything. (Pat Christman/The Free Press via AP)

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Ice sculpting is a bit of an artistic niche, so winter festival season acts as a reunion for Minnesotans passionate about the art form.

“There aren’t that many ice sculptors, so we tend to bump into each other,” said Deneena Hughes, an ice carver from Eden Prairie.

Hughes was on one of four teams who transformed ice blocks in Sibley Park into sleighs, reindeer, holiday gnomes and an abominable snowman Saturday at Mankato’s Kiwanis Holiday Lights.

The group was technically competing against each other for a $500 people’s choice award — won by Adam and Ashley Scholljegerdes for their abominable snowman and Rudolph carving — but their familiarity with each other makes it more of a friendly contest than anything.

Adam Scholljegerdes of Waseca told The Free Press there’s a camaraderie among the artists, and they all want each other’s pieces to turn out well.

“It’s about showcasing everybody,” he said. “That’s what’s fun about this is we all expand our knowledge by carving with one another.”

Scholljegerdes got into ice sculpting through fellow competitor Joe Christenson of Waterville. They carved at the Holiday Lights in past years along with various other festivals like the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

“The feeling of a chisel cutting ice, there’s not many things that I like better,” Christenson said.

If not through a friend or family member, many ice sculptors are first introduced to the art form in culinary school. Tom Schiller of Hastings said that’s where he learned it before honing the craft carving ice for Sunday brunch at a restaurant.

He guessed 75 to 80 percent of ice sculptors have similar beginnings. Hughes’ husband and fellow artist, Paul, can attest to this. He’s been at it for a decade after picking it up in culinary school.

The sunny, mild weather may be great for spectators, but it does the sculptors no favors. They much prefer an overcast, 20-degree day, as temperatures too hot or cold compromise the integrity of the ice. The artists commiserated over the conditions, highlighting the finite nature of the art form. There’s no way for the sculptors to know whether their hard work will be there the next day let alone for weeks afterward.

“You can put all your heart and soul into a piece and the next day it can be gone,” said Chrissy Christenson, who worked on a Santa’s sleigh carving with husband, Joe.

Dealing with the conditions sets ice carving apart from other art mediums, Hughes said. But at least everyone’s working in the same elements.

“We’re all dealing with it,” she said. “It’s not like one team has crappy weather and the other has perfect weather.”

Ideal weather or not, the ice sculptors have each other’s backs. They’ll lend their equipment out to others when something goes wrong.

In the end, the goal is the same for everyone, said Joe Christenson. Ice sculpting is less about outdoing each other and more about creating a beautiful piece of art for the public’s enjoyment.

“It feels good to create something that other people enjoy and they’ll come from a long ways away to see,” he said.

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Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

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