Home Sculptor News Munchkin The Turtle To Be Immortalized In Ice

Munchkin The Turtle To Be Immortalized In Ice

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Folks at the New England Aquarium have long thought of Munchkin as special. The loggerhead sea turtle was rescued off Cape Cod in 2018. According to the aquarium’s website, Munchkin had significant wounds along her right front flipper and was missing portions of her right front flipper and left hind flipper, possibly from an entanglement. The 330-pound turtle spent nine months at the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, before being released this past summer.

According to the aquarium’s tracking tag, Munchkin the turtle is now somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, but Munchkin the ice sculpture is being unveiled Thursday.

The scene of coral reefs, seaweed and schools of fish is being chiseled out of 40, 300-pound blocks of ice and will be displayed on the aquarium plaza Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The blocks making up the sculpture are being moved from a shop in Lawrence called Brilliant Ice Sculpture. This week, two of the shop’s employees were making blocks of ice in the small, warehouse-like space.

Lars-Erik Miller is a sculptor at the shop. He was an art student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, not too far from here, when he stumbled into this studio looking for work. Now, his professional canvas is… ice.

“These are the ice makers here,” Miller said, pointing to four large tanks that look like something you’d find lobsters in. “Basically it [the block] freezes from the bottom up. Pumps circulate the water so the bubbles don’t get frozen in. They come out about 300 pounds … perfectly clear. It takes about three days for a block to freeze.”

Brilliant Ice makes about 40 blocks a week, especially in the winter, which is their busy season. Cities, towns, big companies and hotels want ice sculptures for New Year’s Eve and other holiday events.

When the blocks are frozen, Miller attaches chains to hooks that have been frozen into the blocks.

“This is basically an engine crank that you can just yank on, and it’ll come out,” Miller explained, while pulling a chain that raised the massive block of ice.

The blocks are loaded onto dollies that ironically look like miniature sleds, and all 350 pounds of this monster is wheeled into another room, where they’re sliced by a massive saw — the kind of thing used in a sawmill to cut lumber from trees.

“Now you can see, we have this perfectly flat top surface there,” Miller said, shaving a chunk of ice off the top. He’ll eventually do the same thing on all four sides. The sculptors need perfectly formed blocks to lay on top of one another to complete their designs. Once cut, the blocks are moved to yet another spot.

The blocks move next to what he called their studio freezer. “This is where we make all the sculptures that we send out. It’s about 18 degrees in here.”

Miller is suited up for this kind of work. He’s wearing winter work pants, the kind of things designed both to keep him warm and to deflect chainsaw blades if he should ever slip while cutting. But the reality is that while the chainsaws are great for attracting an audience in public, they’re really the least-used tools.

Much of the equipment used to shape the ice are regular power tools fitted for this work, with names like the magic wand, which carves uniform grooves into the ice. There’s also something called a “Heather bit,” invented by a woman named Heather Brice, that can make sharp-pointed lines and bullet-like marks in the ice. There’s also the “bubble bit,” which can make bubble-type shapes in the ice.

“It’s the same subtractive sculptural approach that you’d take to marble or stone,” Miller said.

And then there are the basic tools that have been used for thousands of years, like chisels.

“And you can see how, because these chisels are so sharp, you can really take off quite a bit of ice at once. So, really, the possibilities are constantly growing. There’s always new ideas and people are constantly coming up with new ways to do things and it’s really exciting to be a part of it. It’s interesting how the tools open up new possibilities for what types of patterns we’re able to make,” Miller said.

Much of the work that these guys do is corporate branding and holiday-themed sculptures like Santa Clauses, snowmen and reindeer. There are also a lot of animals, like Munchkin.

Don Chapelle started Brilliant Ice Sculptures in 2005, after decades as a high-flying chef and part-time ice carver. All the sculptures are designed on a computer and then plotted out on those 300-pound blocks of ice, which are carved separately and then assembled on site. One of the biggest jobs he has now is crafting a massive sculpture of the Boston skyline for a corporate client. Chapelle says the skyline will require 22 tons of ice.

Chapelle points to another freezer in the warehouse space.

“This freezer here has nothing but boxed-up ice blocks waiting to go. They’re square, they ship real easy. This is the start of the aquarium job here,” he said, pointing at one group of wrapped ice blocks, “which is 50% complete, and all of the pieces that go with it.”

These statues cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, and can last for months if the conditions are right. While Bostonians generally crave as much sunshine in the winter as they can get, Chapelle says sunlight is the real killer when it comes to his work — even worse than high temperatures. And while many may not appreciate Thursday’s “mostly cloudy” forecast, that’s music to the ears of an ice sculptor.

So he’s excited that the Munchkin-the-turtle statute at the Aquarium will be mostly in the shade.





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