Chris Foltz knew something was wrong when he saw sparks start flying from the chainsaw teeth as he tried to carve his first animal, a fish, out of a block of ice 18 years ago .
“That was my first lesson: you can’t spin the chainsaw in a curved motion inside a block of ice,” he said.
Foltz has come a long way since that ill-fated first attempt at ice sculpting.
When he’s not teaching students butchery techniques and other culinary skills at Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay, Foltz is looking for new recruits for the after-school ice sculpting course and team he teaches on campus.
“I had only used a chainsaw once or twice in my father’s garden. So to use a power tool like that on something I had never thought of doing was pretty daunting,” said Nick Graham, a Navy veteran and student at the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute who successfully carve a star to earn a spot on the team.
And Foltz still finds time to compete on the professional ice sculpting circuit. Like KEZI news station previously reportedhe recently won first place in a team event for a 16-foot-tall sculpture carved at the 2022 Ice Art World Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Foltz and his three teammates spent five days sculpting and assembling “Thunderstruck”, a 40,000 pound sculpture of a warrior holding a spear, mounted on an elephant ready for battle.
They used chainsaws, chisels and other old tools, along with water to “weld” or bind blocks of ice together, while working in temperatures hovering around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s a super comfortable temperature,” Foltz said. “You don’t have to worry about the ice cream at all. It’s super strong. It welds very easily,” he added.
But ice sculpting isn’t for the faint of heart, and a single mistake can lead to a dangerous disaster when building SUV-sized objects from temperature- and vibration-sensitive material. .
“A piece that weighed 800 pounds fell and hit the base of the sculpture 10 feet below and shattered on the ground,” Foltz recalls in a mistake he made years ago using a power tool that sent acoustic vibrations through a block of ice. sculpted. The giant block fell inches from where he was standing.
Foltz took four of his ice sculpting students with him to the two-week competition in Alaska, including Nick Graham, who returned for a second year to practice and train with Foltz.
“The day we left I believe it was 40 or 50 degrees and then we got off the plane and it was minus 30 and I was wearing a sweatshirt,” Graham said.
He quickly acclimatized working up to 12 hours a day, with his classmates, to bring physically demanding works of art to life on ice, including a 6-foot-tall walrus.
“It’s really important to make sure you cool down enough and don’t overheat because as soon as you sweat you’re miserable,” he said.
In Fairbanks, Graham also got the chance to put his ice sculpting skills to the test by competing against others for the first time.
He partnered with Foltz in a doubles event, finishing third for a 10-foot-tall, 10-foot-wide elephant bust that won him a medal and $700 cash prize.
Graham said he favored realism over abstraction when taking the chainsaw to the ice.
“I’m not as creative as Chris when it comes to abstract things, but I’m getting better. And I even hope to be half as good as he does now.
Graham plans to continue competing and sculpting his frozen menagerie of elephants, swans and other animals as part of a future catering business he hopes to start after finishing his culinary studies.
After 15 years of professional ice carving and decades of working in professional kitchens around the world, Foltz is always excited about new designs to carve and the opportunities to nurture emerging talent in sub-zero temperatures.
“The idea of taking a student who has never used a chainsaw and earning them a third place…that’s my goal. Can I take a student who has the aptitude for this, can I guide them through this process to achieve this level of success? »
You can listen to Chris Foltz and Nick Graham’s interview by hitting the play arrow on the audio above.