A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Ice Sculptor’s Cool Creations

February 19, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Working in cold climates is nothing new for Jimmy Chiappa.

“If I say I’m cold, call an ambulance. Because if I say I’m cold, it’s pretty cold out,” he said.

Chiappa owns Jimmy’s Artistic Creations. He started ice sculpting over 20 years ago to take a break from working in the restaurant business. The diversion turned into a career making all kinds of pieces for weddings, football games, birthdays and everything in between.

He said, “When it gets busy, it’s 80 to 90 hours a week.”

Chiappa’s sculptures start with a 330-pound glass-like block of ice. These machines make big, clear blocks of ice by constantly circulating the water to remove the oxygen.

From there, Chiappa trims the block down a little more and props it up on blocks. After the ice softens a bit, he lines up his sketch and makes cuts with a chainsaw.

“While we’re carving, it’s process of elimination. You really don’t stop carving until you get what you want out of the block,” said Chiappa.

Chiappa periodically cleans shavings off the work in progress with a hose, and sweeps away chunks of ice on the floor to avoid slipping. Then it’s time to even out rough spots, add texture and define lines. This is all done free-hand, and it takes practice.

“I mean, my first swan took me six hours,” Chiappa said. “I’ve done a swan now in 16 minutes.”

On average, Chiappa creates sculptures in about 30 to 60 minutes. He’s under time constraints because his medium will melt. And while ice is heavy, it’s also delicate, so finished sculptures are wrapped in freezing moving blankets before being transported. On the very rare occasion that something breaks, Chiappa has a method of gluing pieces back together. But of course, even with all his thoughtful details and careful handling, Chiappa can’t fight the ephemeral nature of ice. Does that bother him?

“No, not at all. It used to at the beginning, but not any more,” he said. “It keeps my phone ringing. Because once this piece melts, they want another one.”

What are lasting are the drawings Chiappa uses as guidelines. He has nearly 3,500 on file and keeps adding more.