head for International Community Ice Art Exhibit_Technical Notes
Intricate ice cathedral by Max Zuleta, Bruges Belgium, 2000. “Cathedral de la Sagrada Familia,” detail, photo by Diego Zuleta.

Detail of “Catedral de La Sagrada Familia,” Bruges Belguim, 2000.

Photo credit: Max Zuleta
Art Below Zero

Max Bollkman Zuleta

The industry has really changed in the last ten years. Because the industry is “huge” now, there are now new tools made specifically for use with ice. Ninety percent of the tools are now electric. Tools once used for woodwork have been reconfigured. There is a special lathe for use in creating columns or spheres. New grinding tools, and drill bits, that must be longer and sharper to use in working with ice. Max tells us that Steve Brice is known as the “guy who designs about thirty new ice bits and tools a month. About one a day.” He has single-handedly done a lot in supplying the world with new ice tools. Max leaves the creation of innovative tools to the guys that have years of experience in tool design and metal work; hoping that he will be able to come up with new ways to use the tools. One of his recent purchases was a high tech CNC (Computerized Numeric Controlled) router. This is a router connected to a computer. He uses it to lay down pigment, and to etch into the ice at set, specific, depths. In the past carving into the top surface of a block of ice would put a lot of strain on his back. The block would lie on its side and he would have to bend over it to carve. Now the CNC machine accomplishes the work quickly and painlessly, although the price of purchase may have been a bit painful.

“You get impassioned about ice.” Max said that everywhere he goes he thinks “How could I use that for ice? You might walk around in a store you might see something that gives you an idea…Hey, what if I sharpened that spoon? …it might only cost a dollar. Another idea that I had was seeing one of those large, inexpensive, children’s water gun’s, a “Super Squirter,” and wondering if it could be used to “seal” a piece?, This is done by pushing pressurized water into the space between two pieces of ice. You are always thinking. There are all sorts of curious things that you could use as tools. Your new tool might only cost a dollar!”

Max shared with us his experience working on “In Your Hands,” a large piece for the theme of “Peace on Earth,” done for Ottawa’s Winterlüde event in 1995. He points out that it was 19 years ago, before power tools, and before he had a digital camera. He worked for six days, 22 hours a day, using a handsaw, an ice pick and chisels. It was -50ºF (-10ºC) with wind chill. When he was done he was exhausted, too exhausted to even pick up his tools, leaving them in the middle of the road and made his way to his hotel room. The next morning he wondered where his tools were. The people who sponsored the event in Ottawa had gathered them up for him. “I love that city,” he says.

“With the old tools, before power tools, I could spend seven or eight hours working on one block and be exhausted. In comparison, with powers tools cutting ice feels like cutting butter.”

He says that he learned many “mixed techniques” by not having a mentor, but learning from many other carvers. Max said that many of the Asian carvers have “masters” that they have learned from and have much honor and respect for their teachers. They were a little slower to pick up power tools, because their masters didn’t use them. “Their masters are now…60-80 years old. They “don’t touch a chainsaw because their master will wake from the grave…”

ln Alaska he met some “spectacular carvers.” He is very open minded about learning from everyone. …more

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