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Ice-tacular! Sculptors create ice art in DL

chainsaws are used to obtain what Chad Peterson calls "subtractive sculpture", meaning the sculpture is in there somewhere, ice just needs to be subtracted.1 / 6
bubble bits are used to create the look of bubbles in the art2 / 6
Peterson and Rotter chip and chisel away with their garage tools. They say basically anything that can cut wood can be used to cut ice.3 / 6
ice artists Chad Peterson and Eric Rotter grew up neighborhood buddies and still "play" together on the ice, creating award-winning ice sculpures together.4 / 6
The pair use chisels, grinders and different bits to do the detail work seen in their sculptures.5 / 6
Their first job in Detroit Lakes was to create a 2012 piece for the Holiday Inn.6 / 6

A 2012 block of ice sits sparkling with icy perfection, it's tiny little cuts catching the light outside of the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes.

It's almost unbelievable to know that just the night before, it was nothing but eight blocks of ice.

Artists Chad Peterson and Eric Rotter took those meaningless ice blocks and slowly, cut by cut, chip by chip, transformed them into a work of art last weekend.

The duo are ice sculpturers who were neighborhood buddies growing up in the Twin Cities.

Both dabbled in art after high school -- Peterson in painting and Rotter in ceramics.

But they soon found themselves trading in their brushes and pottery wheels for power tools.

"Basically these are my garage tools," said Rotter, who now lives in Detroit Lakes with his wife, Mary.

Rotter and Peterson were hired by the Holiday Inn to sculpt the "2012" piece for the hotel's first ever New Years Eve on Ice party.

Although ice sculpting looks extremely difficult to most, there is a method to these artists' madness.

"As an artist, it's tough to say you plan stuff, but you have to," said Peterson, "because you don't want to run out of ice and you have to figure out how to best utilize the ice to make it appear to be more than what you started with."

This means sketching out a design and planning how they will use each block of ice.

But all the planning in the world is right out the window if Mother Nature says it is.

"Too warm is too warm," said Rotter, "The ice can degrade pretty fast and the sun can make it fall apart even quicker, but if it's too cold it's harder for it to freeze because it can become brittle -- it gets thermal shock, and it'll crack."

Rotter says 25 degrees and cloudy is ideal for ice sculpting, but conditions this past weekend were far from that, as 35 degree temperatures and intermittent misting acted as a kiss of death to their original plan.

Scrapping a few of the fancier additions, the pair opted to simplify their design it bit.

Their project began with eight crystal-clear cubes weighing close to 300 pounds each.

(The completed sculpture was whittled away to weigh about a ton.)

They're not just any chunks of ice though -- they're specifically frozen for art by a company in Fargo.

The purified water is run through block-shaped equipment that freezes the water from the center out.

"Because when it freezes from the outside in, like an ice cube, tiny little air bubbles get trapped in there and it becomes cloudy looking," explained Peterson, "but when it's frozen from the inside out it gives the air a chance to escape."

The result is clear, strong, beautiful ice just ready to become art.

They first "weld" the blocks together by heating up a thin, flat piece of aluminum that is slid in between each block.

It melts the surface just enough so that it will mold perfectly flat, so that when the aluminum is pulled out, the blocks freeze together.

They then inject a little water that seeps into the little holes and cracks, which freeze up and make the structure appear seamless.

"It's just basically to get everything together and laid out," said Peterson, "and then the afterthoughts come in and you make adjustments because it's ice, and it's not perfect."

The artists use chainsaws to do the bulk of the cutting in order to achieve what Peterson calls "subtractive sculpting".

"Meaning the sculpture is in there, you just have to take away what doesn't belong," said Peterson.

Grinders are used for rounding edges, while chisels are used for detail work.

They say it's a bit like woodcarving, but with more aggression.'

They'll even whip out clothes iron here and there.

"The heat will sort of clear and smooth the ice," said Rotter, explaining that there are different bits and tools available for different affects.

They say you can sink a lot of money into real ice sculpting tools, which can go for $600.00 per chisel.

"But this is just for recreation," said Rotter, who works as a physical therapist in Perham, while Peterson works in computer technology in Minnetonka.

Ice sculpting doesn't pay the bills for these artists, but it keeps them on their frozen toes.

"I enjoy it because it's such a challenge," said Rotter, "it's a fun thing that not many people do, but we plan to keep this a recreational thing for us."

The 2012 sculpture will remain at the Detroit Lakes Holiday Inn until its demise in the spring.