GTCC sculptor transforms blocks of ice into beautiful works of art

Dec. 05, 2013 @ 03:56 PM

Where most people see a block of ice, Alan Romano sees what the block of ice can become — say, for example, a snowman, a grand piano or the Easter Bunny.
And then, armed with a chainsaw, a chisel, several picks and die grinders, he begins to carve — boldly at first, then more meticulously — slowly transforming the once-shapeless block of ice into a magnificent sculpture that’s, well, chillingly beautiful.
“It’s time-consuming and it’s exhausting, but people love the results,” says Romano, the owner of Fire & Ice, a custom ice-sculpting company based in Winston-Salem. He also teaches the art in some of his culinary courses at Guilford Technical Community College, where he is an assistant professor.
Friday night, Romano will demonstrate his skills at the 25th annual Festival of Lights in downtown Greensboro, where he will carve a pair of 300-pound blocks of ice into a beautiful sleigh and reindeer.
Romano says he learned how to carve ice sculptures about 30 years ago, when he was in culinary school in New York.
“They taught us the basics,” he says. “Then one day, there was a chef doing a sculpture and he had to leave, and he told me to finish it for him. So I took his chainsaw and his chisel and his other tools and finished it for him, and he liked it. I was surprised — I didn’t think I could really do it.”
That first sculpture, Romano recalls, was a cornucopia for Thanksgiving.
“Then I did a swan, and then I started getting into more difficult pieces,” he says. “At first, though, they didn’t really look like anything — you had to look twice to see what it was.”
That’s no longer true. Browsing through photos on the Fire & Ice company website, you’ll find sculptures that are highly distinctive, ranging from highly detailed swans and ponies to an intricate sculpture of a pair of intertwined wedding rings.
“You name it, I’ve pretty much done it,” Romano says. “I like doing Santa Clauses, snowmen, reindeer and stuff like that for Christmas. Turkeys for Thanksgiving. It really doesn’t make a difference to me — I’ll carve whatever somebody wants, as long as they pay me.”
For a recent event at Wake Forest University, for example, he carved the Demon Deacon mascot riding on a motorcycle.
Romano says a large chunk of ice will stay frozen longer than most people think and makes a nice medium for sculpture.
“It has to be tempered — it can’t be too cold and it can’t be too soft,” he explains. “I just start cutting away. Some ice sculptors use templates, but I’ll probably freehand these (Friday night). I kind of draw it out on the ice and then start with my chainsaw. I probably do about 75 percent of the carving with the chainsaw, and then I finish it with picks and die grinders.”
And during the carving process, what dangers does an ice sculptor need to watch out for?
“Not cutting your hand off,” Romano says with a chuckle.
Well, sure, but from an artistic standpoint?
“Not cutting too deep into the ice,” he says. “If you hit twice in the same spot, it’ll shatter and crack the block. One wrong move, and forget it — it’s destroyed. That happens more often than you might think.”
Something else he has to watch out for is not letting his sculpture slide off the handtruck when he’s moving it. That actually happened to him.
“One night I was doing a castle for a wedding the next day, and it fell off the handtruck,” he says. “So at 11 o’clock at night, I had to start all over because the wedding was early the next day.”
Romano says a sculpture typically takes one to two hours to complete — depending on the size and amount of detail involved — and he does a sculpture for an average of $300 to $400.
“People think I make a lot of money doing this, but it’s a skill and it takes a lot of time to do it,” he says. “Of course, the profit margin is good because you’re just dealing with ice and water. It’s all labor.”
This month, in particular, is a good one for Romano’s company.
“We’ve got a lot of sculptures going out,” he says, rattling off several custom pieces the company is working on. During the holidays, there’s always something going on.”

jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579

Want to go?

Alan Romano will give an ice-sculpting demonstration Friday, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., during the 25th annual Festival of Lights in downtown Greensboro.
He will be located in the 500 block of S. Elm Street, in the parking lot at the end of Barnhardt Street known as The Railyard at South End.
Over the course of two hours, he will carve two 300-pound blocks of ice into a beautiful sleigh and reindeer.
For more information about Romano and his company, Fire & Ice, visit his website at www.fireicenc.com.
For more information about the Festival of Lights, call (336) 274-4595 or visit www.festivaloflightsgso.org.