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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

The Ice Man Cutteth In Woodstock

Weary of ice this winter? One sous-chef from the Upper Valley never gets tired of the stuff.  Sean Grenier is an expert ice carver, and his glistening sculptures have been getting prizes.

He cut his first ice block while an apprentice chef at the Balsams Grand Resort in New Hampshire’s Dixville Notch. Right away, he was a champ.  In 2002 he and a fellow student walked away with first prize at the national collegiate competition.

On a recent, dangerously, unusually, balmy winter day, he demonstrated his skills  at the Woodstock Inn. A few guests watched him on the snow-covered front lawn as he drove his electric chainsaw into a 300 pound translucent block.  

“So you have to be very careful how you handle it,” Grenier said. “It is heavy. It can crush you if you’re not careful, and then there’s temperature concerns. If it is too warm and the sun’s out, it will melt really quickly; it can shatter very easily. Also when it’s  extremely cold you have to be really careful because it can shatter if you tap it the wrong way, so there’s all kinds of concerns of that nature.”

As he sliced through the cube, the wings of an eagle took shape. To get finer detail, he reached for tools from a nearby table.

“I have a super burr which aggressively shaves ice, I have a v-bit, which creates nice fluid channels, similar to a Japanese v-chisel. I also have an angle, with 24-grit sandpaper to help sand and shape rough surfaces, and I also have an assortment of Japanese chisels, v-chisels, straight chisels, and other things,” he said.

Most of  his ephemeral work ends up on buffet tables. He says diners linger in front of anything with wings. In fact, he won that student competition with an ice fairy.

He usually plans his designs in advance, rather than improvising with a melting medium. Yet it doesn’t bother him to create art destined to disappear.

“Nature is just always kind of your adversary and it is just the nature of the medium we work in and just part of it, but it’s also part of the challenge and it can be very rewarding,” Grenier said.

Especially when he performs well in a contest.

“Well, I just won second place up at a national ice carving competition up at Stowe a few months ago. The theme was “Forty Years of Rock and Stowe” which was kind of  hard to symbolize in ice, but I did a very big stylized “S” and on top was a winged guitar, and it ended up working out. We had four hours and two blocks to work with and it was a lot of fun,” he said.

At Woodstock, the flying eagle worked out well, too.

But it’s probably just a puddle now.