Each January, the latest cars roll through Detroit's Cobo Center as part of the North American International Auto Show. But new this year, some of that energy will be brought outside into the winter festivities at Campus Martius Park. Master ice sculptor Chad Hartson of Toledo, Ohio-based Ice Creations and his team have re-created seven life-size cars out of ice — ranging from the 1957 Chevy Nomad to the 2017 Lamborghini Aventador. We caught up with Hartson while his team was putting the finishing touches on the sculptures to learn more.
Metro Times: We've never seen ice sculpture at this level before.
Chad Hartson: Cars, in general, have never been carved in the U.S. All the ones you've ever seen on social media or anything, those have been European-based companies or Canadian. It's kind of a new concept for the U.S. What more of a perfect place to have it than here?
MT: How are the cars made?
Hartson: You have to have the right facility to be able to pull off a job like this. A lot of ice carving companies that are out there are pretty small — they wouldn't be able to pull this off. It's 420 blocks of ice total. That's a lot of ice. Each block of ice is 300 pounds, 4-foot-by-2-foot by 10 inches thick. So you've got to be able to produce that ice to begin with, and be able to store that ice, and then you've got to be able to store the completed cars. Our facility is big enough where we can do that and logistically make something like that happen. We built these cars in our studio in our freezers. We built them on palettes, and separated the cars after they were built into sections. We've been delivering them up here, putting the sections back together, doing some finish work to them, some detail work.
MT: So you manufacture the blocks and carve the car out of that?
Hartson: We take the original design and concept and blow that up. We have a CNC router that makes a drawing on the surface of the blocks of ice. Then we cut a silhouette of the car, and then we slowly work in from there.
MT: How long does that process take?
Hartson: We were able to produce every car in a week. There's seven total. So we started the project in the last weekend of November. We have three guys, working almost 16-hour days to do the cars. So we'd complete a car, cut it apart, put it in the freezer, start another, and just keep that process going over and over again.
MT: How many sections do you cut the cars into?
Hartson: It all depends. Some were four pallets, some were just three.
MT: How long do they last?
Hartson: It all depends. We have these covered. It's an insulated bag over the top of the cars, and they have dry ice underneath. So we basically created their own little freezer box for the cars. With them maintained like that — today it's a warm day, with the sun shining — they'll be able to last until the temperature drops.
MT: How did you get into ice sculpture?
Hartson: I actually went into culinary school to be a chef. That's where I learned how to carve ice. My second year into ice-carving was my junior year in college. I was like, "I don't want work in a kitchen anymore." My last year in college, I took a lot of sculpture classes. When I graduated I was working in a restaurant, and I started this business at the same time. The business was growing and growing and I just made that transition over and have been doing it full time ever since.
MT: They had ice carving at culinary school?
Hartson: It was part of garde manger. In garde manger class you learn how to do ice carving. It's the art side of food — where you're creating a lot of intricately carved fruits and vegetables. You do a lot of carving with tallow, and fruits and vegetables — and ice. That's the core of our business today. We do a lot of ice carving for hotels, country clubs, caterers, and special events.
MT: What's the appeal of ice?
Hartson: One of the coolest things — no pun intended — with ice, you always get to create something new. It doesn't last — it's a temporary medium. You know it's going to go away. A lot of times it's fun to see it change — it's fun to see where it goes. I've carved a sculpture that was a pyramid with a ball on top. Ten hours later we go back to the party, and we're like, "Holy crap, the ball is still on top of this little thing. How does that even stay up there?" Then you touch it and it falls off. [Laughs.] We've done events and we've done sculptures and the sun beats them up. A lot of time when the sun beats them you end up getting these crystals of ice. But even that is kind of fun. Kids and parents will come by and pick them up. They're like, "What is that? That's so cool." It's like, you should have seen the sculpture! There's a certain point where nature takes over and it becomes its own thing. And it just is what it is at that point.
The sculptures are located throughout the Campus Martius area in Detroit and on view through January.