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Ice sculptors move frozen water well beyond the cube

It's a delicate work of art, but you can't display it or hang it on your wall.

And don't try to find it in a museum either because once a work is completed it lasts only about six hours.

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So what is this most ephemeral of art forms? It's ice sculpture, of course!

You'll find most examples of ice art decorating party banquet tables. Carving ice sculptures for private functions is the business's bread and butter, says Alice Connelly, executive director of the National Ice Carving Association.

Swans are among the most-requested designs - sculptors usually produce hundreds a year.

But it's at competitions and festivals that you'll find frozen creations of amazing dimensions and detail.

It's not to easy to understand why some people would throw their creative energies into a piece of work that disappears as the temperature rises. But that's one of the medium's advantages, says Ms. Connelly.

"You can take this chunk of frozen water and turn it into art," she says. "You can express yourself and it's not like sculpting marble, where it's hard to correct your mistakes. Ice allows you to continually re-create."

Perhaps you've seen photos of ice towers from a winter festival and puzzled over how a huge ice block is transformed into a recognizable figure. Or maybe you wonder where all the ice comes from. The big outdoor sculptures are usually about 20 to 30 individual blocks of ice pieced together. Each block weighs from 300 to more than 400 pounds, and is produced by ice-making companies.

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Once sculptors set to work, they use a variety of tools - chain saws, die grinders, disc grinders, household irons, and special chisels that can cost upwards of $600.

Ice artists' "studios" vary. Depending on the climate, some sculptors carve outside, others use their garage or a cold room, and some even have freezers they carve in. Large pieces are carved on site.

A finished sculpture from a single ice block usually takes from a half hour to four hours to complete, depending on the detail.

The majority of ice sculptors learn the art in culinary school, where basic ice carving is introduced. But some schools actually teach it as a course of study, Connelly says.

"To be an ice sculptor, you need to have some artistic ability and creativity," she says, "but mostly a desire to learn."

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