Ice Sculptor Tyson Whistler Prepares for Marietta’s Ice Show

After much anticipation, the Marietta Ice Show returns this Saturday, January 16th as part of Marietta Main Street’s winter schedule. Now a standalone event sponsored by Glenwood Retirement Community, the Ice Show features expertly carved ice sculptures on display throughout downtown, a live carving at the armory, and of course, hot chocolate. While much coordination goes into putting on this event each year, its success centers on the artistic vision and creation of one local artist.

Tyson Whistler began carving ice more than fifteen years ago, teaching himself new techniques and using each sculpture as a learning experience. Starting out he purchased a few blocks of ice a year to carve for holidays and special events. Now, he has his own freezer, block-making machine, and an arsenal of saws, tools, and bits. Last year, he produced more than 30 unique, artful sculptures.

“Two years ago, I made the investment in equipment to create a workable ‘ice shop’ which opened up a lot of opportunities,” said Whistler. “This year I focused more on precision and quality, how to achieve that easier and more consistently so that purchased sculptures always leave an impression.”

I now see a 300 lb. block of ice as an amount of material to cut, form, build, and work with when before my perspective was more limited to the dimensions of the block.

After last year’s ice show, Whistler said he received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, with orders and requests building up for upcoming months for proms, events, and weddings. “The excitement of the steady flow of sculpting was building. But then the COVID-19 restrictions began in March, and all ordered sculptures – with the exception of one wedding – were eventually canceled for the entire year.”

While Whistler said quarantine took a toll on his motivation early on, creatively he has grown and his process has evolved. “I now see a 300 lb. block of ice as an amount of material to cut, form, build, and work with when before my perspective was more limited to the dimensions of the block.” To map out designs, he began using a projector to draw a template for each piece on tracing paper that is sized and froze onto the ice before carving. As a result, he was able to do more, quicker, and his sculptures have become more elaborate in shape and form, qualities that will be on full display during this year’s show.

This will be the fifth year that Tyson has created most, if not all, of the ice sculptures for the Ice Show, formerly the Fire and Ice Festival held the first Friday in January. Out of the seventeen designs for this year’s show, he has a hard time choosing a favorite. While a few of the designs are repeated, Whistler challenged himself to improve upon each one.

“I’m probably most excited about this dragon piece. I have done a different style of dragon every year and have always loved the way they turn out,” he said. “This year my parents and MattressMax sponsored a dragon sculpture and found a really cool design for me to try out.” This piece in particular, he said, was a good learning aid on how to design and expand vertically while still using one block of ice and some saved scrap pieces.

Other favorites the sculpture sponsored by the Marietta Moose Lodge #1823 which features a 40” pair of moose antlers, the Ohio State Block O, and two sculptures of fish. “The live carving sculpture will also be exciting if I can make it work,” he said. “I’m using two full ice blocks to create a pair of hands holding the world.”

Tyson enjoys working with ice over more permanent materials, such as wood. “Ice is unique, strong yet fragile, and impressive. It captures and reflects light in so many different ways, and as it melts, it transitions, glistening, as it returns to its liquid form and back to nature.”

Though many grinders and saws are used, every sculpture has its unique, hand-cut design.

While many of the professional sculptors he follows use CNC milling machines for most of their carving process, Whistler strives to achieve the same polished look and complex designs using only hand-operated tools. It’s a lot of effort, but he likes the challenge and embraces the opportunity to further hone his skills.

“Though many grinders and saws are used, every sculpture has its unique, hand-cut design,” he said. “Every artist has their own style, those cuts and strokes reflect the human hands guiding each tool to showcase their form and signature style.”

Each year, Whistler begins producing ice in October as it takes 2 ½ days to produce one 300 lb. clear carving block. Often, more than 20 blocks are needed, assuming no breaks. Carving starts three weeks prior to the event date. “The week-of is non-stop carving, detailing, and transporting,” he said. “Transporting the ice is the most stressful part of it all, and is where most of the breaks can happen.” Setting up the sculptures is an all-day effort that requires the help of volunteers, followed by several hours of live carving.

It’s a lot for one person, but Tyson continues to rise to the challenge each year. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to put on a unique display of art throughout downtown and give the community an opportunity to see something they have may never have seen before with a medium that is very mesmerizing.”

Our local community is everything here in Marietta, and is what makes our city awesome.

Tyson, who was involved in setting the vision for the first Ice Festival five year ago in partnership with Marietta Main Street, watches ice sculpture festivals from across the country each year to draw inspiration and add to Marietta’s signature winter event. While initial plans for the 2021 show included a handful of interactive sculptures, these were postponed until next year to discourage large gatherings and maintain social distancing in light of the pandemic.

Sixteen pre-carved ice sculptures will be on display throughout downtown from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, each a unique design inspired by the sponsoring business or an important cause. In addition to the pieces carved in advance, Whistler will do a live carving on the Armory Lawn throughout the afternoon. While large gatherings are not encouraged, on-lookers will have an opportunity to watch the artist at work as they make their way through downtown.

“Our local community is everything here in Marietta, and is what makes our city awesome,” said Tyson. “The growing variety of artistic vibe has really shined over the years I have lived here. I’m honored to be able to be a part of that and be able to showcase my own artistic style though ice sculpting, giving our local community a really cool Saturday afternoon full of cool beautiful sculptures.”

Clutch MOV is proud to once again sponsor one of Tyson’s incredible sculptures! Head downtown this Saturday to see our ice sculpture, seen above as Tyson carves finishing touches, in front of the Ketter Block Building at 204 Front Street. Tag your photos of this year’s Ice Show with #livelovemov to share with us!