He still can't draw a straight line with a ruler, but Peter North is a whiz with a chain saw and a 300-pound block of ice. He has grated his knuckles on rough ice, frost bit his foot and caught pneumonia in the freezer. But those are typical trappings, he says, for an ice sculptor who likes the "crowd-grabbing" appeal of a once-dying art. The 33-year-old chef learned ice carving through a high school vocational program at Rancho Alamitos High 15 years ago, and cooked and carved in area hotels, clubs and restaurants before joining a Los Alamitos catering company. His largest work was a nine-block Christmas carving of the Crystal Cathedral, complete with a camel and Wise Men, but his most satisfying feat was a court jester-- replete with pronged hat--that required detailing and 37 hours in the freezer. He says he would like to have seen that one melt.
The following remarks by North were taken from an interview with Times staff writer Nancy Reed.
At first you are a little emotional about it--all this work and it winds up in a pool of water. But then eventually you just get calloused to it. Normally you are not around to see it melt, anyway. When I sell it, it's gone.
The tools of our trade are ice tongs--just like a refrigeration man used to use--a 14-inch electric chain saw, 6-prong ice shavers that look like a claw, a wood chisel and a pruning saw.
Ice melts at about one quarter of an inch an hour, or an eighth of an inch an hour on all sides at a 75-degree room temperature. So you are working against the time factor.
It is good to carve on the sidewalk because most people never see an ice carving in their lifetime--basically they think ice carving is too expensive. But you can get a carving for $200.
I've had strange requests. A bride and her fiance were active in Greenpeace, so they wanted a seal with a heart on its nose. I have had people who wanted me to do carvings for porno movies, but I have my morals.
The most time-consuming and hardest sculpture I ever did was the bust of a girl for a movie set--I had to do three identical carvings of a girl holding a mirror. Under hot TV lights the carvings melt at a very rapid rate. For that you have to work in the freezer.
If you put an ice carving on a buffet table, you know guests talk about it six months to a year later. But they couldn't tell you what flowers were in a flower arrangement they saw last week.