My pal Bernice's parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this winter. I've been hearing a lot of the planning over our weekly coffee meeting. "It's going to be huge," Bernice said, eyes popping out of her head. "My sister is going overboard with the party. She's hiring a mariachi band for the hors d'oeuvres hour, followed by a big band for dancing. She's already reserved a plane to fly over the reception with a sign saying "Congratulations Bob and Mary," and she is thinking of having an ice sculpture at the party." The last item had not yet been settled and I offered to do a little digging. Bernice was relieved. "That's my duty for the party, and I am just not good at all the details," she added. No more needed to be said. Eve was on it. "We do sculptures for corporate events, for private events, such as wedding, anniversaries, birthdays, the whole gamut," said Christiana Donovan, president of SoCal Ice Productions. "The sculptures are done in advance here at our studio and generally we need at least a two- to four-week advance notice. So, for example, if someone were to call today for an event that is happening tomorrow, in all likelihood they probably wouldn't get it. We have a large walk-in freezer where the work is done. Some of the sculptures are computer assisted."
Donovan explained computer-assisted technology. "It is a CNC machine, which is a Computer Numeric Command machine for ice sculptors. So if the client had a specific design in mind for the artwork, we ask them to send us artwork in a specific format, or we create the artwork, and it is then sent from the computer to the cutting machine. It might cut the exact design; for example, with a corporate logo, it will cut the exact corporate logo, and then we do the finish work. We do all the details around it, cutting the outside of it and such. But that is really just for one- and two-dimensional designs. For three-dimensional designs, it has to be finished by hand."
What tools are used?
"For the rough cut, a chainsaw is used and then the details are done with Japanese ice-carving chisels. They are professional chisels that are designed specifically for ice carving. And we also use some power tools such as Dremels, sanders, and grinders. We have one full-time artist and two part-time artists. On average, depending on the design, it takes anywhere from two to five hours to carve a sculpture."
How is the sculpture displayed?
"They are delivered with display equipment. There's a clear tray that sits on the table that has a small drain hose that goes off the back into a bucket under the table, so the water is being safely drained away from the sculpture as it melts. And then there is a small light that is placed behind the sculpture to illuminate it. The event coordinator every couple of hours needs to monitor the water that is in the bucket. Usually it is not going to melt enough for them to be concerned, but they just need to keep an eye on it to make sure that nothing is backing up, that it doesn't overflow. The typical size is about 3 feet tall by 20 inches wide. It will melt in anywhere from two to five hours depending on whether it is inside or outside. We deliver about an hour before guests arrive."
Do you do colored ice sculptures?
"Yes, we have a special process called color inlay that we use when clients request color. It's more of a special request. I think if the color is important to a person's logo or to their theme, then it will definitely add to the overall effect. If it's not crucial, and they want the clarity and the crystal effect of the ice, then they would usually just have a clear sculpture."
SoCal Ice Productions has over 50 designs on their website ( www.socalice.com ) that clients can choose from. Or, clients can bring in their own design. "The average price that people are spending on their sculptures is between $450 and $500 ," offered Donovan. "What's really popular right now are drink luges and ice bars. Drink luges are ice sculptures where a martini or a mixed drink is poured through the sculpture. It's an interactive ice sculpture, basically, and that's what makes it kind of special. The bartender will pour the drink through the ice sculpture and the guest puts the glass at the base to receive the drink. An ice bar is kind of an interactive way for the guest to enjoy an ice sculpture. They walk up to this gigantic seven-foot ice bar and they get served whatever beverage they want. It might have their corporate logo on it, or the bride and groom's monogram on the front of the ice bar, and then they have the bartenders behind serving the drinks. There might be drink luges on the ice bar, too. There are lots of ways that people can enjoy the ice sculpture other than just looking at it." Drink luges cost about $450 to $500 . Ice Bars range from $2750 to $3500 .
SoCal Ice Productions also offers ice shot glasses and ice sorbet dishes. "We deliver them in an insulated box with dry ice. They take as many shot glasses out at a time that they are anticipating using. They let them warm up for a couple of minutes and then they pour cold vodka or whatever they are serving inside the glass. Then they serve it to the guest, by putting a napkin on the guest's hand and then putting the shot glass on the napkin. They can get two or three shots per glass out of it. It is definitely more for a kind of 'wow' effect. It is so unusual that people really remember it." Ice shot glasses cost $2.50 each, with a minimum order of 50. The ice sorbet dishes cost anywhere from $5.50 to $8.50 apiece, and they're usually used for intermezzo (a small palate-cleansing dish served between larger courses).