It’s a pretty cool job if you can get it. Still, Edward Fraze considers himself something of an outlier in the niche world of ice sculpting. While most practitioners of the craft start out as chefs looking for eye-catching ways to present seafood, Fraze, a 54-year-old former hotel manager and self-professed oddball, was drawn to the power tools. “I mean, who doesn’t want to carve things with a chainsaw?” he laughs.
Anything Fraze makes in his Salt Lake City, Utah, studio—chairs, chalices, chandeliers—begins as a solid rectangular block of ice. For Amtrak’s route map, Fraze and his four assistants started with 2,400 pounds of water, which they used a special machine to freeze from the bottom up, rather than the top down—as it solidifies in a lake—to ensure that any impurities were pushed to the surface. After sawing the resulting mass into eight 200-pound bricks, Fraze carved out a rough approximation of America with his chainsaw, then refined and polished the shape with chisels, Dremels and grinders. Typically, he tries to avoid cracking the ice, but in this case he created the fractures to mimic Amtrak’s route lines. “I’ve always felt that the cracks are beautiful,” he says. “The light really dances off them.”
While some sculptors might strive to create work that lasts centuries, Fraze embraces the ephemeral nature of his medium—it all goes down the drain, eventually. “We get to grab hold of an essential element for a brief amount of time and shape it into something artful—and then let it go back into the earth,” he says. “From the moment you walk away from it, the sculpture is changing. The shape changes. The light comes through it differently.” And so it went for our route map, which melted unceremoniously sometime before publication. “It’s already back into the earth,” he tells us without a hint of regret. “It’s gone its way.”