Q&A on Ice Carving in Pure Michigan

Randy Finch and Derek Maxfield own and operate Ice Sculptures Ltd in Grand Rapids. You may have also seen them on Ice Brigade on the Food Network. Randy was kind enough to answer a few questions about ice carving.

Q: Is ice carving a popular Michigan activity?

A: Although Michigan is no stranger to ice carving festivals, they are more common in the winter because it is a wonderful to way to generate traffic in a city's downtown area in an otherwise slow economical time.  An example of this is in Rockford. Three years ago there would be maybe 30 people in the town on an average Saturday. In one weekend last year, they had over 15,000 visiting shops.

Q: How would a beginner learn more about ice carving?

A: Ice sculpting is usually learned in culinary schools or apprenticing with a professional in the  industry. However, in 2003 we published the first ever ice sculpting book in English for students to have the ability to learn on their own as well as have as a reference material. At this time, this book has become the standard in culinary schools around the United States.  You can check it out here:  http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Sculpting-Modern-Robert-Garlough/dp/1401804055

Q: What kind of ice and tools do you use?

A: The ice is specially made in clinebell tanks to alleviate the ice of impurities. Major carving tools can range based on the project that is taking place. With that said, there are traditional tool like chisels, handsaws, ice chipers.  We also use die grinders, chainsaws, and we even have a computerized ice sculpting machine that can give us perfect sculptures. With each of these tools, we are able to address any and all projects that people bring to us.

Q: What are some of the big festivals or events in Michigan that feature ice carving?

A: Although several of Michigan's Winter festivals purchase their ice and scultpures from out of state, the two most important winter festivals in Michigan are the Rockford Ice Festival (which was just this past weekend) and the Traverse City Winter WOW Fest (February 18 - 21) These two festivals not only have an amazing turnout but live up to the standard of Pure Michigan because they strictly use Michigan-based ice sculpting.

Q: What have been some of the biggest or most unique creations done by the Ice Brigade?

A: There are so many exciting moments and fun sculptures we were able to create -  from a 30 ft by 30 ft chess set which was playable, a functional ice piano, a pinball machine, a rideable rotating carasel, a playable casino with rollete wheel and rollable dice for the craps table, a riding bull and so many more!!!

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges when doing an ice sculpture?

A: Designing to fit the needs of client, what they want,  figuring out how its going to be transported, and how to make it last the length of the party are all challenges. There are a wide range of factors that are taken into consideration to make each ice sculpture unique and successful.  A successful sculpture begins and ends with a successful plan.

Q: Where can people learn more about ice carving?

A: Check out our site, along with our Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.