Ice sculptures in Long Island, United States may highlight a special event. They may be part of a wedding celebration in Tokyo, Japan. They may also be an integral part of a Winter Festival in Montreal, Canada. In fact, ice sculptures are truly a part of winter festivals and special events from around the world. Their origins indeed are also cosmopolitan.
In Alaska, the Canadian North, Greenland, and in other cold climates, the carving out of homes from blocks of ice and snow has been a practice for more than 4,000 years. The Inuit and other Natives began and maintained this practice as part of their culture and lifestyle. In other countries the practice of using ice as a resource extended to other elements. In China, around 600 BC, ice was carved up not only for its ability to keep food, particularly fish, fresh during the warm months, but to create lanterns. Chinese fishermen as well as hunters from North West China close to the Russian border, created lanterns from ice to light their way on dark, cold nights.
The use of ice lanterns dates prior to the 17th century. Such use was documented during this period for Heilongjiang. Yet, these small carvings were not seen as impressive at the time. It was not until the early 18th century that ice sculpting began to rise in fame. The country was not China or America. It was Imperial Russia.
During the winter of 1740, Anna Ivanovna, the Empress of Russia, decided to play a grotesque joke. The winter was exceptionally cold that year when she decided to distract the people while punishing Prince Mikhail Golitsyn for daring to not only marry a foreigner but also someone who was non-Catholic. His wife now dead, Ivanovna decide to hold a highly formal marriage between him and a lowly lady of the court. The twist – they were to spend their wedding night in an ice palace.
The architect of this first ice palace was Pyotr Eropkin. The location was the River Neva in St. Petersburg. Although wrapped in furs, it was certainly a chilly place to spend their wedding night. Although not as grand, the next well-known ice sculpture was to set into motion a new trend.
The famous Australian opera star, Nellie Melba (1861-1931), performed at Convent Garden in 1892. She played the role of Elsa in Lohengrin. To celebrate her role, head chef of the Carleton Hotel, Auguste Escoffier prepared a special dish. To display it to its utmost advantage, he turned to a novel idea – an ice sculpture. He chose a swan since they feature strongly in Wagner’s opera. Not only was the dessert a success, but the ice swan became a novel way to display food.
Since then, ice sculptures designs in Long Island, New York, Paris and London, have become an integral part of many special occasions and important events. They are prominent in weddings, private affairs and public festivals. Ice sculptures are now part of anywhere good food, good friends and wonderful experiences are involved.