Of all the photos in the Ice Castles photo library, this one is my favorite: Light painting at the Midway, Utah Ice Castle during the 2013-2014 season. | Photo by Sam Scholes
I work in castles made of glacial ice--dripping stalactites of ice forming natural columns and turrets which sparkle in the sun and radiate color in the night. Sometimes I don't even believe it, but yes, it's true--I work in the Ice Castles.
Patrick Groleau was roaming through the New Hampshire Ice Castle last year, with his camera and good humor in tow, when he saw me attempting to take a picture of an Ice Rose I had just finished creating. He was kind enough to send me the image. Thanks again, Patrick!
My arrangement with the Ice Castles began as a simple sales call. Tom and I heard that there was going to be an amazing ice castle to be built in the parking lot of the Mall of America. As we saw it, an attraction that was built with ice, just might be interested in selling Globe Ice Lantern Kits in their gift shop.
Brent Christensen, the creator of Ice Castles and the Chief Master Builder, plus his partner kindly agreed to meet us. We brought kits PLUS some killer, knock-em-dead gorgeous Globe Ice Lanterns--as big as we could make them (which at that time was about the size of a beach ball. They fell in love with the idea straight away. They asked if I would be willing to bring globe ice lanterns and dress up the entrance of the Ice Castle. Considering that I love to play with ice, and they were offering me a chance to design a winter icy candlelit landscape for a castle, I took a breath . . . and said, "Yes!"
With extra-tall Christmas trees erected in piles of snow to act as an instant wooded area, my goal was to design trails dotted with Ice Glass sculptures and Globe Ice Lanterns to offer visitors a meandering pathway to the castle entrances.
It looked the part, but I must admit, that with planes flying overhead to a deafening roar, children wanting to explore and the glow of the SEARS sign just a few yards away, I soon learned the environment needed a little blast of color and a few less delicate edges.
So, away went the candles and in went the Rotating Color 9-Bulb LED lights inside the largest Globe Ice Lanterns I could carry. I still put in Ice Glass to catch the colored reflections, but they were all really big and without the convoluted edges that I love so much. It felt a little like a blast of cold water at first, but the guests loved it. And that's the point after all, right? Of course, right.
Once I saw how much people loved the colored globes, I decided to start something new. Brent liked what I had done with the outside, so he told me I had free reign to create anything I wanted, virtually anywhere in and out of the castle. OK then, first step was to create something that would engage the children visiting the castle. A globe ice lantern that has been kissed by the sun, develops a certain craggy, rough look, but when a 9-Bulb LED is put inside, and a torch cleans off the haze, they sparkle like Magic Dragon Eggs. So, next was to create a game: "How many Dragon Eggs can you find?". The ticket sellers planted the idea with the kids as they entered and the builders who were decked out in full climbing gear and pick axes who continued the concept. Soon kids were dashing through tunnels and winding around the maze looking for Dragon Eggs. Crazy fun!
But the best part for me was becoming the Dragon Egg tender. I pulled a big black sled behind me, that was filled with all manners of tools and interesting things. Most every night around 4:30, I would go around and make sure all the Dragon Eggs were heated up for the night, just like the adult Dragons would do if the workers had not scared them away. It was up to me and the other Egg tenders to warm them up before the cold of the night settled in. As I replaced the batteries and torched them to glue them back into place, my remote control would turn them on. Ahh and Ohh went the littlest kids. They loved it. A lot of them would follow me around the castle or better yet, would help me look for the eggs that needed to be warmed up. It was cold work, . . . but very satisfying work.
The second project became apparent as the sun started to beat down on the castle late in the season. Gaps in the walls started to appear and when the Ice Castle Builders were unable to spray in that area, I came in and filled it with patterned ice - really anything I could think of to create something interesting and/or beautiful that would light up with the lights. I loved that part--creative problem solving. Love it.
On the left side of this picture is an example of a "Stained Ice Glass Window" I created to fill a gaps in the Ice Castle walls. | Photo by Joseph Schufman of the St. Paul Camera Club
When the Ice Castle season at the Mall of America ended, our relationship with the Ice Castle group started to heat up. During the off season, Tom and I were both asked to consult about improvements and enhancements to the guest experience, and when the next season began, they asked us to visit and create more icy creations for the new Ice Castles that were going to pop up around the country. I am now considered a Visiting Luminary Ice Artist, and in fact, Tom and I will be leaving shortly for the New Hampshire Ice Castle which has been blessed with a real winter complete with loads of snow and consistent cold weather. With Tom's help, we will whip up a few Magic Dragon Eggs, create some crazy ice pieces and then do a little performance art assembling them into something fun and colorful when the sun goes down. We might even bring a Globe Ice Lantern with action figures or flowers frozen inside. My time and the weather always dictate what I can do. But, with some ice and a torch at night, there is always drama galore. Our goal, as always, will be to add a little bit of Wintercraft magic to the already spectacular Ice Castles.
These kids found the first Globe Ice Lantern with Anna, Elsa and Olaf frozen into the ice and lit with LED lights that ever appeared in one of the Ice Castles. They look like happy campers to me and their dad is handy with a camera, too. Thanks Shane Foss!
Enjoy the Glow!