Ice sculptures inspire wintry awe

  • 2006-01-25
  • By TBT staff
JELGAVA - Alongside negative 20 degree arctic winds, January has another icy gift in store for Latvia. This week, a tour of the Eighth International Ice-Sculpture Festival will grace six towns across the country with its frosty presence.

The show begins in Jelgava on Jan. 28, where sculptors from across Europe will gather to create their own natural masterpieces. The public is invited to watch as these artists chisel away at giant cubes of ice. Chip by chip, contour by curve, the sculptors will quickly transform blunt chunks of ice and snow into delicate works of art. Once finished, the glimmering sculptures will travel across the country, greeted by "oohhs" and "ahhs" along the way.

"The last thing I want to do in sub-zero temperatures is stare at ice," you might be thinking. But once you catch a glimpse of these stunning creations, at least your heart will be warmed by their beauty. As for your toes and fingers, we suggest doubling up on socks and mittens.

Ice has been used as an artistic canvas for centuries, but only worked its way into popular culture and sports recently. In 1994, ice sculpting was added to the Winter Olympics as a cultural competition. Today the field has a number of world-recognized sculptors, many of whom travel the icy globe to show their talent.

Latvia's competition, which carries the theme "Weddings," will include artists from the Czech Republic, England, Finland, the Netherlands, Belarus, Bulgaria, Ireland and all three Baltic states. In total, 22 sculptors will compete, creating eight original works of ice and five of snow. Once finished with their work, the artists will present it to a team of judges. After the winners are announced, both competitors and the public will celebrate in appropriate fashion with free champagne served from the festival's exclusive ice bar.

As in any competition, there are rules: all artists must use tools approved beforehand by festival organizers, the sculptures must not exceed three meters in height or width, and the final work must be pure ice and snow, with no additional artistic props. Before the competition, artists will wander through Jelgava's vast country side, collecting snow and ice from the region's many lakes and streams to use as their canvas.

"But how do they do it?" you may ask. In most competitions, the sculptors glue pieces of ice together with a slushy mortar of ice chips and water. Without proper cooling their creations seldom last more than a few hours or days. Thankfully, with minus 20 degree weather, this will be no problem in Latvia.

Most of the ice is sawed, chipped and brushed away as if it were a block of wood or stone, but because this technique is done on ice, the process takes only a few days. 

With great care, the sculptures will be packed and carried from Jelgava to the Western coastal city of Ventspils on Feb. 1, then Tukums on Feb. 2, followed by Ogre, Jurmala and finally Riga on Feb. 5.

The exhibition will truly be a stunning site. At best, you'll gain a new appreciation for ice. At worst, you'll go home a bit chillier than you were to begin with.

International Ice-Sculpting Festival

Jan. 23-Feb. 5

For more info: 9194997