Ice Sculptor Tyson Whistler Prepares for Marietta’s Ice Festival
After much anticipation, the Marietta Ice Festival returns this Saturday, January 15th as part of Marietta Main Street’s winter schedule. Now a standalone event sponsored by We Lov Pets in Marietta, the Ice Festival features expertly carved ice sculptures on display throughout downtown and a live carving at the Armory on Front Street. 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 over sixteen years ago, teaching himself new techniques and using each sculpture as a learning experience. He started by purchasing a few blocks of ice a year to carve for holidays and special events. Now, he has his own freezer, block-making machine, an arsenal of saws, tools, and bits, along with his own business: Whistler Ice Works.
A few years ago, Whistler made an investment in professional equipment to create a more workable ‘ice shop’, opening up a world of opportunities. Since then, he has worked on improving his precision and quality to ensure his work always leaves an impression.
The success of the sculptures is becoming a little more well-known each year, and this past year commissions were becoming so consistent that I decided to make a business out of it.
“In July of 2021, I officially started my website for Whistler Ice Works!” said Whistler.“The success of the sculptures is becoming a little more well-known each year, and this past year commissions were becoming so consistent that I decided to make a business out of it.” Whistler Ice Works creates customized ice for corporate and private parties, restaurants, events – any event where a custom ice sculpture, luge, or craft ice can be utilized to create a wow factor for guests.
Despite the growth of his business and increasing list of commissions, Whistler says he always looks forward to the Marietta Ice Festival each year – an event he helped dream up back in 2016.
“The Ice Festival is a unique day in Marietta where our community can come enjoy our downtown area and travel up and down the blocks finding a different styled sculpture at each location,” he said. “I look forward to the new challenge of ideas each year.Though many sponsors just want their logo carved, I try to incorporate new designs into them along with new, different sculptures I haven’t before attempted.”
This will be the sixth year that Tyson has created most, if not all, of the ice sculptures for the Ice Festival, formerly the Fire and Ice Festival held the First Friday in January. Each sculpture begins as a 300 lb. block of ice that will eventually be chiseled and carved down into its final form. To map out his designs, Whistler uses a projector to draw a template for each piece on tracing paper that is sized and frozen onto the ice before carving, allowing him to move more quickly. This technique also allows Whistler to create more elaborate designs, especially those requiring more than one block of ice.
“Each sculpture has its parts of difficulty,” said Whistler. “The weather is the most frustrating aspect of the whole event. The week after Christmas we had 60s, rain, and humidity, followed by 30s and 20s for a few days, then back to rain and temperatures in the mid 40s.” Whistler said he most enjoys carving in temperatures around the 20s and 30s as the ice carves smoothly and doesn’t turn into slush when detailing. “The most challenging is always the live sculpture. Carving in front of a crowd outside the comforts of my home carving garage; mistakes can’t be made, and again the weather forces plan adjustments,” he said.
Any carving with feathers or scales always is a crowd pleaser!
Of the twenty designs for this year’s festival, Whistler has a hard time choosing just one favorite. “A mermaid was brought up earlier this year from a friend, I thought that was a cool idea and put it on the design list. I’m excited to try this one out but carving human form is very difficult,” he said. “I’m also very excited about the owl and dragon – the owl came out so beautiful and I will be starting the dragon later this week. Any carving with feathers or scales always is a crowd pleaser!”
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 there are no breaks. Carving starts three weeks prior to the event date. The week-of is non-stop carving, detailing, and transporting. “Transporting the ice is the most stressful part of it all, and is where most of the breaks can happen,” said Whistler.
Despite the stress that comes with working with an unpredictable medium, Whistler said he enjoys working with ice over more permanent materials, like wood. He appreciates the way the ice captures and reflects light and the way it transforms as it melts, glistening as it returns to its liquid form and ultimately, back to the earth.
While many professional sculptors now 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 hard work, but he’s up to the challenge and uses each opportunity to further develop his skills.
The Ice Festival has attracted many to our community in the month of January, each year we meet and look for ways to make the event more of a festival than an art show.
“I have used new tools and knowledge quite a bit this year,” said Whistler. “With the amount of logos requested this year, my goal was to make them bigger and taller while still using one block of ice for each sculpture. Many sculptures will be fused together onsite at each location. For this to work, each piece must be perfectly level and the weather must cooperate.”
New to the festival this year are a number of interactive ice sculptures. “The Ice Festival has attracted many to our community in the month of January, each year we meet and look for ways to make the event more of a festival than an art show,” said Whistler.“This year we have added an ice photo wall where you can get your picture taken through the ice wall, a 3 foot interactive ice chess set, and a hand-built wooden Skeeball machine where one can throw ice balls instead of Skeeballs and try your aim at sinking a bullseye.”
Carving so many sculptures is a big job for one person, but Whistler 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 may never have seen before with a medium that is very mesmerizing.”
Nineteen pre-carved ice sculptures will be on display throughout downtown from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 15th, each a unique design inspired by the sponsoring business or an important cause. Visitors can admire several on the Armory Lawn. In addition to the pieces carved in advance, Whistler will do a live carving on the Armory Lawn throughout the afternoon, sponsored by We Lov Pets.
I feel like we are so lucky to have this wonderful event in our backyard and our goal is to be on board and help this event grow!
“We LovPets had a sculpture last year at the Ice Festival and we were hooked!” said Adam Johnson, General Manager of We Lov Pets in Marietta. “I was absolutely blown away at the skill level of Tyson. I feel like we are so lucky to have this wonderful event in our backyard and our goal is to be on board and help this event grow!”
After Saturday, Whistler will be back to work, carving for a brand new Ice Festival taking place in Gallipolis, OH next month. Inspired by Marietta’s growing festival, Gallipolis contacted Whistler to have him assist in establishing a similar event in their community.
“We have many outside visitors come into town each year just for the festival,” said Whistler. “David Moore with Gallia-Vinton Educational Services Center from Gallipolis area enjoyed our show so much he wanted to bring an ice show to his home town for his community. We met this summer and discussed some options, and after a meeting with the board the event was set!”
The Gallipolis Ice Show will feature ten sculptures including one live sculpture demonstration on February 19th, 2022.
Clutch MOV is proud to be the official Media Sponsor of this year’s Marietta Ice Festival, and 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 our new shop at 152 Front Street. Tag your photos of this year’s Ice Festival with #livelovemov to share with us!