Ice sculptures are coming back to events, says artist Nate Johnson. The co-owner of Johnson Studios, which opened in 2010, sold his first sculpture back in 1989. In his busy season (from Mother’s Day to New Year’s Eve), he can carve up to 150 blocks a week. “For a while it was a cliché thing with many companies giving clients menus to order. But we’re trying to get away from that,” he says. “We encourage every client to give us an idea of who they are and what interests they have so we can design a special piece for every event.”

Lately, that has included 16-foot portraits of professional athletes, a complete replica of the Chicago skyline, even a life-size pug. Working out of a 4,000-square-foot warehouse near Midway Airport, where he regularly uses chainsaws, ice picks, chisels and blowtorches to get the desired effect, the job is always exciting, even if sometimes it’s short-lived. “It broke my heart when the first sculpture I ever made melted,” Johnson says, “but by now I’m used to it.”

ILM+E: How did you first get started making ice sculptures?
NJ:
In 1989, I was working as a chef in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We were doing a banquet and someone in the party requested an ice sculpture, but nobody in town made them. I had been studying art at the time and figured I could do it. It took me eight hours. I didn’t even have a chainsaw, I used a bow saw made from wood and wood chisels, but it came out good. I ended up making ice sculptures every weekend until eventually I quit cooking.

ILM+E: What makes the best ice sculptures?
NJ:
We pride ourselves on being able to make really good portraits. Objects that have a good silhouette work great, too, so you can tell what the design is long into the evening—at room temperature, detail will be visible for four hours. We also have a special process for logos where we engrave them in the center of the block of ice so it will be there at the end of the night.

ILM+E: What does a planner need to have for setting up the sculpture?
NJ:
Nothing. We bring everything to the venue. You’d be amazed, but a standard banquet table will hold a 150-200-pound ice sculpture just fine. We bring a tray and drainage, and guarantee the floor and table won’t get wet. We also bring battery-operated LED lights that can be switched to any color and can put decoration around the sculpture. The planner just has to tell us where it will be staged, and we’ll come up with the design and deliver it so they don’t have to worry about a thing. At the end of night, you can just put it outside and it will be gone by morning. It’s the easiest décor. 

Passionate entrepreneurs and ESP Presents co-founders Matt Woodburn and Sarah Neukom collaborate to craft experiential events. 

ILM+E: What are your backgrounds in the industry and how did you come to establish your production firm?

 

As general manager of the new 130-room AC Hotel Grand Rapids Downtown, Ryan Schmied enjoys a fast-track life by making sure everything at the stunning boutique-style property is running smoothly.

Formerly a refrigerator production factory, warehouse and most recently a TGI Fridays near the Van Andel Arena, the 19th-century space in which the chic AC is located has quite a history.

 

Gail Davis, founder and president of Dallas-based GDA Speakers, was working in corporate training for EDS when the phone rang. “One of my mentors called me and said, ‘There’s a position in the events department, and I think you should do it. It would be so easy for a working mom,’” says Davis, before adding wryly, “It was clearly someone who had never planned events.”