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Ice carvers set to compete at Haywood County’s innaugural Fire & Ice festival

Fellow ice carvers Jeff Pennypacker and Cary Shackelford are ever ready to etch out any sculpture that will satisfy their client’s whimsy.

The recently departed holiday season means Pennypacker has carved heaps of reindeers, snowflakes, New Year’s signs, champagne bottles and ice bars.

Meanwhile, Shackelford personalizes sculptures year-round to match each wedding. He has carved an ice castle with Cinderella slippers out front; a runner to recognize a marathon-running bride and groom pair; and even Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, for a Hindu wedding.

Most ice carvers must master flower vases, swans and eagles, as these are wildly popular with clients.

With 20 years of experience under his belt, Shackleford said he can chisel out a vase in a whopping 20 minutes or less.

But Shackelford is a little nervous about having a time limit looming overhead as he takes part in the first competition of his career next week.

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Shackleford will be one of six carvers charged with creating the best ice sculpture in under two hours at the first annual Fire & Ice festival in Haywood County.

The competition asks carvers to whittle away the most impressive winter symbol from a huge block of ice.

Only one person can carve, but a helper can assist in moving the block, which can weigh 300 pounds or more.

Ice carving contests are a rarity in this region, which is one of the reasons Pennypacker was excited to get on board and help organize and sponsor the event.

“There’s not a whole lot of competition down this way,” said Pennypacker. “Most of them are up north.

Shackelford already has a sculpture in mind after Google searching “winter symbols” to help brainstorm. He usually gathers photographs and drawings to study before figuring out a plan of attack for each sculpture.

“Planning is the most important part of what we do,” Pennypacker said.


The lowdown on carving

Ice carvers utilize chainsaws and chisels, and now, some even use a computer mouse as part of the process.

Computer technology helps by doing basic cutting. But there’s still a lot of human input involved, since carvers do all the shaping and detail work.

On average, it takes Pennypacker two hours to create a sculpture, which itself lasts six to eight hours.

“Sculptures lasts longer than the party,” Shackelford said.

Luckily for the artists, not all is lost if an ice sculpture breaks in the making.

Shackelford can use the snow created when he cuts ice with a chainsaw, along with water, to help repair his work if necessary.

“Some people use liquid nitrogen, which is a little dangerous,” said Shackelford.

A common misconception about ice carving is the idea that one must shiver in a cold room while creating.

“You don’t have to be in the freezer to cut them,” said Shackelford.

In fact, colder temperatures make the job tougher since the ice becomes more brittle.

“You can crack it more easily when it’s cold,” said Shackelford.

Summertime is actually one of the best times to have an ice sculpture, Pennypacker said.

“The more the melt, the more spectacular the ice looks,” said Pennypacker.

For those itching to begin mastering the art, Shackelford has two words familiar to anyone who desires to learn a new trade: “patience” and “practice.”

“Don’t get discouraged if you break it because it will happen,” said Shackelford.

While you don’t have to be a chef to be an ice carver, most ice carvers also use their knife skills at restaurants. But leaving the kitchen to carve up a sculpture is nothing like a chore for Shackelford, an executive chef in Asheville.

“The best part of my job is to carve ice,” said Shackelford. “I don’t do it often enough.”

See Shackelford and five other ice carvers in action from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at The Waynesville Inn.

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