Ice sculpture is the art of carving shapes out of ice. Sculptures range from small table decorations to entire towns of ice seen in winter festivals all over the world. This art began in China and Russia many centuries ago.
In the 1600's, native hunters and fishermen of the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, on the border of Russia, designed ice lanterns for dark winter nights. They filled buckets with water to make ice. The ice would be slid out and then a hole was dug into the ice block to hold a candle to make a lantern. People started hanging decorated lanterns from their houses and carrying them in carnivals. In 1897, the Transsiberian Railway was extended through the small Chinese fishing town of Harbin in Heilongjiang, once occupied by Russia. As a result of the traffic, Harbin grew into a big city. With below freezing winds from Siberia, and ice from the frozen Songhua river, Harbin became the home of the annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Currently, this festival features the work of thousands of artists from all over the world.
In 1740, the Empress Anna in Russia, commissioned the first monumental scale ice palace by Piotr Eropkin, The palace included ice cannons that fired ice cannon balls, and an ice elephant linked to a canal through pipes thath sprayed water out of its trunk. Since then, complete ice towns have been built in the northern cities of Russia. In 2000, a replica of Anna's ice palace was built in the first International Sand and Ice festival at St. Petersburg. Nine hundred and eighty square feet and 21 feet tall, the palace was built by fusing together blocks of ice from the Neva river. Russians claim that St. Petersburg was where ice sculpture began.
There are two ways to make ice sculpture: You can carve into a block of ice or make a mold. Blocks of ice are obtained from frozen rivers and lakes. Typically water that freezes slowly makes clear ice and is preferred by artists to make ice sculptures. In some places, artificial blocks of ice are made for this purpose.
You can order custom or designed ice sculptures to use as centerpieces for celebrations such as weddings, birthdays ,etc. Depending on the weather and the structure of the sculpture, ice art can melt in just a few hours or months. The Harbin International Ice festival, for example, runs for two months. Artists enter elaborate ice sculptures at competitions and festivals held annually all over the world.
Ice festivals are seen in places that get very cold. Festivals in Sapporo, Japan, for instance, feature sculpture on an architectural scale such as ice castles and pagodas. The winter carnival in Alaska has participants from over 100 teams annually, including teams from countries such as China and the United States. In Sweden an ice hotel complete with bedrooms and a bar is built every year.