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March 12, 2014: Ice Carving Festival

Yesterday, in the late afternoon/early evening, my friend Fran Bundtzen, her daughter Sarah, and I went to check out the Fairbanks Ice Carving Festival. This yearly event features some of the world’s best carvers, who come from all over the world to carve and sculpt ice blocks, the source being a local river. The ice is said to be some of the best in the world – it’s hard, clear, and has few bubbles.

I’d been to the festival in 2010, and I wanted to go again. I will go again next year. Some things you anticipate for some time, and they are a washout. And other things you anticipate and they are smaller than life. Some things you anticipate and they are larger than life. This was a case of the latter. Of course, what made this even more wondrous was that I was with good friends, who was as awed by the good work as I was.

There are two times that are best for seeing the sculptures – in the daytime, and at night. It’s best (I think) to go in the late afternoon, when the sun is low, and then stay until after the sun sets. This way, you see them as they exist in natural and artificial light settings. Differing aspects of the sculptures also then make themselves apparent.

We are not talking here about carvings that might grace a banquet table; rather, we are talking carvings that if they were to be preserved, would grace museum halls. Both the single block and the multi-block constructions are life-size and larger. There are buildings,

sculptures, statues – and small kiosks providing information about the sculptures and where they are from. (They hail from Mongolia, Russia, and Japan among other places). In addition to sculptures, there are ice slides and ice bowls for the kids to play in and for adults to venture into and onto. For kids, this is a never-to-be forgotten wonderland.

The work is judged and awards are given. I do not know what the judging criteria actually are. I suspect that the general rules of good sculpture prevail. This would include degree of technicality.

There were a lot of onlookers. Kids were running around and were being pulled on sleds. It did not seem crowded. People were taking photos, more so after night. Sarah is a photographer and was using two cameras. I took some photos, tried to use my tripod. I alternated by using my photography gear and just oohing and awing at the wonderful display.

My favorite multi-block sculpture was entitled “Jury of One’s Peers,” – it consisted of a circle of wild animals – a giraffe and a rhinoceros included – in the center was an empty chair. The message here was that we ought to take better care of the remaining wildlife. Most of the work gave me reason to pause, but this one stopped me dead in my tracks. And my favorite single block sculpture was of a dog – I focused on its head. The lines were sharp, clear – it was, in my mind, the essence of dog.

I was pleased about the fact that I’d dressed well for the occasion. It was nippy out. I wore my Steiger mukluks, so my feet were toasty, and my nylon pants and fleece pants.

We stopped in the warming shack for a bit – this between our afternoon and evening treks – and met up with Fran’s husband Tom. I suspect that this geological mining engineer/consultant was thinking about the way the ice had been put together. I do not know, for he is a man of few words. But I could tell by his expression that he was also moved by what he was seeing.

Once back at the Bundtzens, we looked at Sarah’s photos on the computer, and in this way, while drinking tea, relived our earlier experience. The second time around, I saw details that escaped me the first time around. Like the fact that the wild horses were all in differing colored light.

I was left with many, many unanswered questions about the ice festival, and how it comes to be. Like, I wonder if there are challenges inherent to carving in warm versus cold conditions. I also wonder how the designs come about, and what happens when things go wrong – like say, if a bridge on a landscape collapses.

So, next year, I’m going to find out. I am going to go to Fairbanks next year, early, and I am going to watch the carvers carve, and talk with them about how they do this. Already, I am looking forward to this.

Next: 72. 3/13/13: Filling the Air with Sound