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A Brief History of Ice Sculptures Around The World

January 18, 2018

Ice sculpting and the creative art of ice sculptures have a long history, yet its origins are not entirely clear. The use of ice and snow houses for shelter were thought to have been first used nearly 4000 years ago, although the earliest record of harvesting ice is found in the Shih Ching, or ‘Book of Songs,’ which was written around 600 BC.

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The first known incident of ice sculptures was in 17th Century China in the small fishing town of Harbin, Heilongjiang. Ice fishermen would freeze buckets of water, carving a deep hole in the center after removing the bucket. They would then place a candle in the hole that created a crude lantern, enabling fishermen to find prime fishing spots. This soon became popular and people began to hang decorated versions of these ice lanterns in their homes and paraded them in carnivals. Later, as Russia’s Trans-Siberian railroad reached Harbin in 1897, the town hosted its first ice and snow festival, which showcased ice sculptures from around the world. This continues to be one of the biggest ice festivals in the world, featuring striking creations by world-renowned artists.

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The first documented ice palace was created in Russia, around 1739, when Empress Anna Ivanovna ordered the construction of a stunning and intricate snow and ice castle in St. Petersburg. The palace was the location of a cruel jest exemplary of Anna’s malicious sense of humour. After Prince Mikhail married an Italian Catholic woman who died soon after the wedding, Anna felt that he deserved punishment. She selected her most unattractive maidservant, and forced the pair to marry, and parade in the streets atop an elephant while being followed by a number of farm animals and ‘circus freaks’. They were then stripped and locked away overnight in the heart of the ice palace under heavy guard.

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Many ice palaces and ice sculptures have since been built, including replicas of Anna’s original palace in St. Petersburg. However, technology has changed the art form. This elegant, if fleeting, form of creativity has become a way for artisans to express themselves in detailed, decorative and practical ways. The perfect example being the Ice hotel in Sweden, complete with frozen furnishings, an ice bar, and warm reindeer pelt bedclothes. Ice sculptures are now frequently used for weddings and such events, with more and more people being exposed to this truly amazing art form.

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Each year, many snow sculpture festivals are held globally, including those created by the team at Ice Kingdom. With over twenty years of industry experience, Ice Kingdom arts – led by master carver David Xu Riu – are world renowned for their breathtaking skills with snow and ice. If you find yourself in Whistler this cold season, this is certainly an experience you cannot miss.