December buzz at the Toledo Zoo: ice sculptures


So you're elbow deep in a massive ice sculpture and you're not sure what to do next. The chainsaw is roaring, a crowd has gathered to watch, and with one slight mistake you've just turned hundreds of pounds of ice into a broken blob.

Where do you turn? There is no Ice Sculpting for Dummies and last time we checked there weren't any art classes teaching you how to turn 300 pounds of ice into a pair of birds kissing a heart.

Therein lies the dilemma of an art form that has virtually no collective wisdom or history. But for Chad Hartson, 15 years at the craft pays off with a general knack for what to do next.

"What makes it challenging is that we have to create that stuff and figure it out and there's a not a lot of resources that we can go to to get that knowledge," the owner of the Napoleon-based Ice Creations said.

"You're building it based on your experience because there's no scientific data that says how this should be done. You're figuring it out on your own."

He'll be at the Toledo Zoo at 6 p.m. today carving a sculpture based on the iconic leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story. The demonstration is the first of a series that will take place every Thursday at the zoo this month.

Hartson said there are structural concerns once you start using a chain saw, grinders, chisels, and other tools to dig into the ice, which comes in 300-pound blocks that are either sculpted individually or in combinations.

"If you use the wrong tool to do the wrong job you can easily break the wrong piece off," he said.

He became interested in the work when he was in culinary school because it was part of his training. With no experience in art, he went back and took classes in sculpting to fully learn the various techniques. His company employs five people full-time and they do everything from buffet line designs you typically see at wedding receptions or banquets to massive ice curtains.

The most rewarding aspect of the work is creating something from nothing, he said.

"You start with a block of ice and you stand back and you've got this finished product. Even when I'm doing standard stuff -- we do a lot of love birds on hearts and double hearts -- and even when I do those I think, wow, there's always something about it that's different than what I did before. They closely resemble each other but there's always something I did different."

Watching Hartson spend about 90 minutes on the chunk of ice beginning at 6 is just one of the activities taking place at the zoo tonight. KeyBank will pass out 3-D glasses that allow visitors to see snowflakes on the more than a million lights on display at the Lights Before Christmas.

A 30-foot high and 90-foot long Snowzilla slide will be set up so that anyone 3 years and older can ride an inner tube down the frozen track. The cost for the slide is $1.50 per rider.

There also will be a limited supply of bobblehead leg lamps that will be handed out to folks in the main plaza until they run out.

Admission to the Lights Before Christmas starts at 3 p.m. every day and gates close at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Gates close at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and people who are at the zoo have an hour after the gates close to finish their visits. Toledo Zoo members get free unlimited visits to the Lights Before Christmas Mondays through Thursdays and one free visit they can use on a weekend.

Admission is $12 for those between the ages of 12 and 59; $9 for anyone 60 and older; $9 for children between the ages of 2 and 11, and free for children younger than 2. You can save $1 per ticket by purchasing them online at

Contact Rod Lockwood at or 419-724-6159.