Freezing on Ice…


Yesterday I went with a couple of friends to ICE!  at National Harbor.   First there was a 7 minute instructional/safety video where we learnt we were about to enter a world of 9 degrees Fahrenheit,  how the sculptures were made and instructed not to touch or lick the ice.  We were then given bulky and very unflattering blue coats to put on over our own already bulky winter coats – talk about looking like the Michelin (wo)man!  I had my own “puffy” coat underneath….photo-1 copy

A woman offered to take a photo of the three of us  – one day someone will find this photo in isolation and wonder about the blue coats!   (not to mention the strange writing on the faces of 2 of the women).  MDG-1

It was a truly freezing, frozen world:     IMG_0273

ICE! was in a 15,000 sq foot custom built “igloo” which is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit.  Using 2 million pounds of ice some of the sculptures are made of colored ice blocks (which didn’t look like ice),  some sculptures are illuminated internally by some of the 1,400 specially designed LED tube lights and some of the ice is engineered to support everything.   IMG_0275

A group of master carvers from Harbin, China, spends nearly a month of 12-hour shifts inside a freezer transforming those two million pounds of ice.IMG_0274

Harbin is in Northeast China where the average winter temperature is only 2 degrees F and where the temperature has been known to drop to -36 F.  Apparently Harbin stays below freezing for half the year.  So, what does one do when surrounded by ice?   Well….  you spend those dark, frozen months learning to carve it.

As part of an Ice Lantern Festival, the carvers would cut blocks of ice out of the Songhua River,  make carvings and display them amongst intricately constructed ice lanterns.    In 1963, the Mayor of Harbin created a formal competition.       The displays were government-sponsored events and organized in public parks  and are still held today.

Sadly for any local would-be ice carvers the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers do not freeze enough to provide the huge chunks of ice needed to make anything decent.  So the display is made of ice made in an ice factory.  There are 3 types of ice used –

1. Clear, “crystal” ice which is the most difficult to make.    De-ionized water is used and it takes 3 days to freeze 45 gallons of water (which makes a 400lb ice block).  IMG_0285

2. White ice which looks like compacted snow – water is frozen quickly giving it a cloudy look.IMG_0277

3.  Colored ice –  made by adding food coloring during the freezing process.   The water has to be constantly stirred as the coloring is added, and as the block freezes, so that the color is consistent throughout the block (so it’s even when they make slices through the block).IMG_0284

The 400lb blocks of ice are delivered on pallets in 36 refrigerated trucks  – 2 trucks a day for nearly 3 weeks which is about as fast as the ice factory can make it.   The blocks are moved into place by forklift and the carvers get to work.

After slicing or carving a piece of ice an artisan sprinkles the surface to be bonded with “snow” . He pours water onto the piece and lifts it into position – at 9 degrees F ordinary water freezes very quickly, sticking one piece to another.

I really liked this one:  IMG_0281

Not really surprisingly none of us felt we needed the thrill of going down a 20-feet tall ice slide on our backs   IMG_0279

All that cold and ice made my bladder itch  –    so off to find the port-a-loo…IMG_0288a
These were no ordinary construction site port-a-loos!  IMG_0289There was even hot water! IMG_0292
The back of the trailer exit door didn’t have a handle which had me worried for a second: IMG_0293
We went for coffee at the Gaylord Resort Hotel which still had Christmas decorations up: IMG_0294It is an impressive looking hotel – all these rooms have balconies overlooking a sunlit courtyard :IMG_0297And glass elevator banks  –  IMG_0298Then we walked down to the water: IMG_0300And looked at the sculpture called  “The Awakening”   –  it would be difficult to get a photo of this without people unless one got up with the sunIMG_0304
The Awakening is a 70 foot giant struggling to free himself.  It is made up of 5 separate pieces and was created by J. Seward Johnson in 1980 and was originally installed at Hains Point.   It was dug up and moved to the National Harbor area in 2008 after the developer (The Peterson Companies) purchased it.  Little kids are climbing on his bearded face and into his mouth which is open in mid-scream.
Then it was time to go home via two stained glass mosaic panels by artist Cheryl Foster.   This one is titled Maryland’s Bounty Panel 1 Panel 1
and this one is Maryland’s Bounty Panel 2 Panel 2

17 responses

    • It was a fun day out. ICE! seems to have been held at National Harbor for 3 or 4 years (different themes) but none of us had been. I probably won’t do it again – it was expensive for the amount of time we spent in the actual exhibit.

  1. Sounds like the 9F were springtime for the worker from Harbin. Personally I would ask for higher payment under intolerable circumstances 😆
    When I started reading I thought “who in their right mind would lick an ice sculpture unless being a naive child” but when I saw the coloured figures I realized it would take a lot not to try …. 😛

    • LOL re licking the ice – whenever I hear a ridiculous sounding “don’t do” something warning here I realize that they are probably saying it because that is exactly what someone did (and got hurt doing it!).

      Perhaps the carvers get a “hardship bonus” for working in the freezer..

  2. You have to put a coat on over your own coat? What if you were already wearing a big down-insulated coat already? You’d be barely able to walk through the exhibit, lol.

    Also, yeah, subfreezing temperatures tend to make my bladder contract. When I lived in Minnesota, I was always on the lookout for the restroom if I had to spend any amount of time outside. There was one evening when my car wouldn’t start after being parked in subzero temperatures all day long at work. I called AAA and waited for the tow truck to come jump the engine, but after sitting in a cold car for 40 minutes, I was dying to use the loo. I ran back into the office, and of course, the tow truck driver came while I was relieving myself. Luckily some kind coworker stood next to my car and was able to unlock it so they could pop open the trunk. The driver said if there wasn’t anyone waiting by the car, he would have left and I would have had to wait another hour for the next available tow truck.

    • Yep I already had a downy feather coat on and when I put this awful blue thing over the top I could barely bend my arms! I actually felt quite snug but my face was cold and my poor right hand (exposed to use the camera) was frozen and still felt cold hours later. I didn’t see anyone refuse the blue coat though a few people asked if they “really had to have” it and were told that it was advisable – I’m pretty sure those who took it begrudgingly were pleased they did once we went into the actual exhibit.

      LOL – that’s always the way with having to go while you’re waiting for someone. The instant you get in the bathroom the person arrives/rings etc. Never fails.

  3. Wow! Those are amazing sculptures but mostly the colored ones are interesting. I’ve never seen colorful ones. They’re usually chainsaw-cut clear ice (that I’ve seen).

  4. Such artistic talent….some people are gifted. The crystal ice work is magic.
    I also admire the guys who do sculptures from huge blocks of ice using chain saws at Australian country shows, only to have their art melt away 30 minutes later.

    • Yes GOF it is impressive what some can do with a chainsaw – both to a block of ice and a chunk of timber. I wouldn’t like my “art” to disappear as quickly as melting ice, a rising tide washing away sand sculptures or rain rinsing chalk drawings off the footpath.

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