Ice Ice Baby- a Q&A about Ice Sculptures

If you’ve attended many events at the Oasis, or even just followed our page for a while, you may know that we have a resident ice carving expert on staff. John Blansit, our Assistant General Manager and Corporate Food & Beverage Director, has decades of experience crafting art out of solid ice. We sat down to pick John’s brain about this unique talent.

“Ice carving is really quite simple- the finished carving is already in the ice, you just have to remove the part that doesn’t belong.”

John Blansit

How do you learn to make ice carvings?

You learn the very basics of ice carving in culinary school. You do have to have some artistic abilities in order to be able to do custom pieces. Otherwise, you have a handful of basic designs that you can learn to replicate. If you’re lucky, you get to work at a hotel or restaurant with a Chef that offers ice carving to their customers. You really have to be hands-on to get the experience and practice to develop any skills. For me, it started at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The chef there had been a good ice carver in his younger days, but was tired of doing them, so he let me practice on a few ice blocks. By the second one, he let me do the handful that were ordered. My real experience was gained at Embassy Suites Hotel in Kansas City. We put an ice sculpture out every Sunday for brunch and would often have weddings and banquets with ice sculptures as well. I probably created more than 70 per year and tried not to duplicate any designs from week to week.

What is the process? How long does it take from start to finish?

At the Oasis, we have our own ice maker so we can make the ice blocks ourselves. To freeze a block takes four days. After that, I usually spend an hour creating the rough shape of the sculpture. Then I will put it back in the freezer. The second day, it usually takes another hour to do the fine details.

What kind of tools do you use?

I use an electric chainsaw and some long-handled chisels.

How much do the sculptures weigh?

The ice block weighs 300 lbs. when you begin.  You may remove 100-150 lbs. in the carving process, so the final carving weighs between 150-200 lbs.

How long do they last?

I design them to last the duration of the event they are planned for.  If it is a two hour party, the sculpture can be more delicate.  If it needs to last six hours, you have to design it structurally to not collapse half way through.

How much do they cost?

It varies depending on the design, but the average price is around $350.

What are some unique things you can do with an ice carving?

Since we have our own ice maker, we can freeze things in the ice block. For a pork themed event, I made a piggy bank with real coins frozen inside. For a McDonald’s event, they had commemorative coins, and I froze them in the ice. As the sculpture melted, guests could grab a coin and take it with them.

Have you won any awards?

I have competed in three competitions.  Each one had a two hour time limit and you were allowed to use two ice blocks.  I have won a first place, a second place, and a Best of Show. 

Do you have any “fail” stories?

Once for a Mother’s Day brunch, I had the ice carving on a cart and was wheeling it out to put it on display. It usually takes three people to carefully lift and set the ice carving out for an event. The Banquet Manager was going to assist, and she was standing on top of a table to help hoist it up. She had taken her shoes off and left them on the floor. The cart hit her shoes, and the ice carving went flying. Luckily, it was one of four carvings I had made for that event, so the show went on and we put the other three out.

What’s your favorite sculpture you’ve ever made?

My favorite sculpture was probably Cupid playing a heart shaped piano. I did it at a competition in Kansas City and won a Best of Show Award.

How do I order an ice carving?

You can add an ice carving to any event at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center by speaking with your Sales & Catering representative. Feel free to browse the image gallery below for inspiration from past ice sculptures I have done. Or, if you have a specific idea, I would be happy to discuss making your vision come to life in ice.