As the sun set in downtown Anchorage early Sunday evening, competitors in the "Crystal Gallery of Ice" competition were putting the finishing touches on their intricate ice art carvings, created in just three days.
Winners in the annual competition, hosted by Anchorage Downtown Partnership, were announced hours later as spotlights illuminated the carvings in Town Square against a dark winter sky.
Ten teams of two people each carved their block of ice over the weekend. Teams started on Friday morning and worked until 4 p.m. Sunday. As they finished their pieces, crowds began to gather in town square. Several other works, scattered around downtown Anchorage, were also in various stages of completion on Sunday.
A five-judge panel assigned scores to the works, and announced the following winners after the Sunday deadline:
First place went to Paul Hanis and Patrick Boonstra, who created the work "Windowpane Impressions." Their abstract piece was based on the formations frost makes on a window pane, Hanis said. The pair estimate their sculpture took around 40 hours to complete. They took home the $500 first-place prize.
Second place went to Qi Feng An and Zhe An with their sculpture "The Dragon," along with $350. Their piece, a fluid, detailed dragon, also won the carver's choice award.
Third place and $250 went to Nathan Turnbull and Denise Portmann for their piece "Embrace," a depiction of a mother and child.
The ice carving competition is in its eighth year, said Erin Westfall, director of events with Anchorage Downtown Partnership. She described how the ice is brought down from Fairbanks, and carved from the same lake that provides ice for the World Ice Art Championships held every March in that Interior community.
Even more impressive? The ice blocks were carved out in March 2012, and have been sitting under a massive pile of sawdust in Fairbanks, kept frozen despite blistering summer heat.
The Alaska Railroad and Lynden Transport ship the ice to Anchorage free of charge, said the event's ice manager, Tom Lewando. All told, 160,000 pounds of ice were hauled down on the Alaska railroad, he said.
Lewando is also a competitor in the contest. His sculpture, an abstract piece that spells out the word "love," had an ice-carved spigot that ran from one side of the word to the other, signifying the concept that "something comes in and it comes out all good," thanks to love, he said.
His wife Carol, an elementary art teacher, created the design. The two have been carving ice for the competition for the past eight years.
The sculptures will begin to melt in the sun, and will likely be unrecognizable by mid-February. Temperatures were hovering in the upper 20s on Sunday in Anchorage. So for those hoping to see the sculptures in their optimal state, "the sooner the better," Lewando said.
For sculptor Melanie Mangione, seeing the ice melt is one of her favorite parts of carving ice. "I'm more interested to see what this piece will do in a week, two weeks," she said.
Mangione and her husband Chris Barryhill have been carving ice for three years. This year was their first entering the competition. Their sculpture, a horse's head mimicking a knight chess piece, will form sharper angles as the piece melts, Mangoine said. She plans to photograph the transformation as it turns back to water.
William Hartsgrove has been carving ice for 18 years, first as a banquet chef at the Captain Cook, and later for a private catering company. Their sculpture, an angel fish swimming through kelp, is a larger-scale version of sculptures that Hartsgrove has carved in the past.
For Hartsgrove's teammate, John Trescott, carving ice is an artistic outlet. Trescott repairs machinery all day long at his business, Eagle River Small Engine Repair. He said carving ice gives him a break from fixing, to simply create.
Plus, "in Alaska you have to find things to do in the winter," Trescott said.