Have you hung out at the Ice Bar at the Chambers or admired ice carvings at local weddings, festivals, or corporate events? Then no doubt you've enjoyed the work of Chris Swarbrick, master ice carver and all-around chill guy. In 1998, he was simply a businessman who purchased an ice mold franchise and called it Ice Occasions. Upon finding that custom-made designs were the real sell, he taught himself how to carve. Now, he routinely wins the St. Paul Winter Carnival and even makes his own ice blocks.
The Hot Dish tracked down Swarbrick during the busy season and got him to answer a few questions for us from his studio in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
What is your studio like? What tools and equipment do you use?
My studio is in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. I have a large building that was formerly a liquor distributor's building. I have a number of machines that make approximately 70 blocks (of ice) a week. I have three different walk-in freezers to store blocks and create sculptures in. I use a wide variety of tools. I have a computerized router that creates perfect replicas of logos and also makes shot glasses and other products. I have an ice lathe that can turn ice pillars and vases. I use chainsaws and chisels and routers to create the ice carvings. I also have a number of different drainage systems that are needed to display the ice sculptures at events.
What is the craziest or most complicated thing you've carved or created?
The craziest, I would have to say, is one I did for a wedding that was a beaver dam that said "Muskrat Love" on it. Other fun ones for weddings include a Harley engine, a shirtless fireman, and carvings of the family pet. I love doing pieces that are truly unique to each couple.
Most complicated was definitely the Multiblock World Championships in Alaska. You have to make a sculpture out of 10 blocks that are each 4 x 6 x 3 feet. That is roughly 6,000 pounds per block. My team created a 25-foot-high sculpture. Building a 30-foot ice lounge outside of the Fox News Studio for the Fox and Friends Show in the rain was a lot of work as well.
Have you made ice carvings for any celebrities or famous folks?
I have done work for many celebrity parties--some include George W. Bush, Tim Pawlenty, U2, AC/DC, and Kid Rock, to name a few. Local celebs include Bill Austin, Steve Schussler, and just recently I did a party at Rick Kupchella's house.
What are you working on now?
This week I am getting ready for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. This year they are celebrating 125 years. I am the master carver, so I am in charge of a number of large sculptures in Rice Park. We are building a 125-foot-long wall, a replica of King Tut's Coffinette, a 12-foot semicircular ice bar, and a number of other corporate sponsor sculptures. As well I will be competing in the 20-block competition and the individual two-block competition.