Aaric Kendall knew how to use a chain saw and that gave the Olympic Gold Medal winner in ice carving an extra edge. Little did he know cutting wood to heat his childhood home would turn into something cool.
Kendall won the bronze medal in the ice carving competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He trumped that in the following Olympics by winning the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
Kendall was at Willow Ridge Winery on Saturday — back by popular demand for the sixth or seventh year — putting his craft on display.
This year he carved four 300-pound blocks of ice. One he turned into a wine rack and sat it on the end of the bar. He installed lights and the owners set wine bottles in it.
Kendall also split a block of ice in half and made a bean bag toss game set, carving the two target boards. He sat them in the winery yard and people played bean bags with them.
Kendall then carved a 300-pound corkscrew with a big handle emblazoned with the initials WR for Willow Ridge.
His last offering was a 300-pound Yoda from Star Wars. It took him about 45 minutes to an hour for each piece.
Kendall wasn’t always an ice sculptor. He went to school to be a chef at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York.
“One of the first chefs I worked with sculpted ice,” Kendall said. “It was then that I found out that ice sculpting was part of the culinary field. For about six months, when he would carve I would stay after class and watch him work.”
Kendall earned a scholarship for carving and it took off from there.
“It helped that I excelled at using the main tool for ice carving, an electric chain saw,” Kendall said. “We used to heat our home with wood.”
Kendall said he thinks of himself as more of an ice craftsman than an artist, but admits he may have an artistic side.
“I can see if a line is straight or not and can adjust to make it work. I guess that lends itself to the artistic side, blending shapes,” he said.
“Ice is a medium that is represented by a strong silhouette,” Kendall said. “A pose has to have a strong silhouette. I will have a template or sketch a drawing ahead of time and then the chain saw becomes my pencil, my brush.”
Kendall has several electric tools besides the chain saw for his mastery, along with manual tools.
In ice carving competitions, there are points given for making the carving bigger than the original block of ice. The way to do that is by cutting off pieces of ice and then reattaching them to make a more elaborate piece.
When he won the Olympic Gold Medal, Kendall took a regular block of ice and turned it into an ice dancer carrying a long ribbon and holding a dove, while leaping over a spark.
Kendall still competes 10 years after winning the Olympic Gold, but not as much.
“To hone your craft, you need to compete,” Kendall said. “And I have competed around the world. But once you win, it becomes a double-edged sword. People want you to come and create works of art for them.”
Kendall started raising a family. Between that and a growing number of requests from clientele, he has made the choice to limit the number of competitions he participates in.
“It was worth competing at the highest level,” Kendall said. “But the industry has changed and is more geared to appearances at festivals. The ice carvers kept things tight due to the competitive aspect. They didn’t want to teach a lot of carvers and saturate the market.”
He said there aren’t many young carvers and the older ones have to always carve in the cold. It’s hard work, and they have to lift heavy objects.
“After awhile, they decide to so something else,” Kendall said. “People don’t realize how much works it takes and the tools you need to create beautiful works.”
Sometimes, because of conditions, ice carvers have to use freezers or containers with dry ice to keep their ice blocks and the pieces they cut off to reuse later from melting, while they are working on another part of the project.
Kendall said the weather has been pretty warm for a January this year.
“This is the sixth warmest January on record,” Kendall said. “So I’ve been carving in warmer conditions all month.
The weather was warm for January this past Saturday at Willow Ridge, but it was still cold and windy outside watching him work. It would have been more of a challenge if the Willow Ridge event was on Sunday when it was sunny and almost 60 degrees.
Kendall has been carving ice for 20 years and has created over 20,000 pieces. He tries to never repeat a piece, even if on some of them it’s a minor alteration.
Kendall does more than raise a family and carve ice. He works with his father in an excavating business, pushing dirt around with bulldozers, when the weather cooperates.
“We are extremely busy,” Kendall said.
Kendall will be busy carving again Saturday, Feb. 8, in his hometown of Argenta, where he will headline the Fourth Annual Argenta Icefest and IceBreaker Challenge.
The festival is a one-day event that runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Bridge Church will also be serving breakfast from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Friends Creek Community Building.
The Icefest includes live demonstrations, interactive ice play, sponsored ice sculptures, and lit ice sculptures at dusk.
There will also be a vendor fair, food vendors, wine and beer tent (that includes Willow Ridge Winery), and a chili cookoff. Most of the action will take place at Prairie Park in Argenta, but the fun also runs down Elm Street.
New this year is the IceBreaker Challenge, an endurance fun race with multiple challenges and unique trophies to the top three teams.
For more information on the Argenta Icefest go to the Argenta Icefest Facebook page.