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Woodbury resident Jim Zupfer took third place in this year's annual St. Paul Winter Carnival ice carving competition with his sculpture titled "Glacial Grace." The competition was held Jan. 29 in Rice Park.

Showing his imagination through ice

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Showing his imagination through ice
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

For many Twin Cities residents, admiring the ice sculptures at the St. Paul Winter Carnival is an annual tradition. For Woodbury resident Jim Zupfer, carving the ice sculptures is the tradition.


Zupfer took third place in this year's amateur single block carving competition, which took place Jan. 29 in St. Paul Rice Park. His ice sculpture, titled "Glacial Grace," depicts his 9-year-old-daughter Sylvia Grace as a ballet dancer.

"It's a great atmosphere down there," Zupfer said. "It's people out enjoying winter, which sometimes takes a bit of effort.

"It's that positive Minnesota spirit in the winter that brings people together."

Zupfer's ice sculpture will be display in Rice Park through Feb. 5.

Woodbury resident Chuck Sheffler is also involved in the St. Paul Winter Carnival as the Royal Family's South Wind Prince.

Creative carving

Zupfer, who works as a middle school science teacher in Eagan, first began ice carving about 25 years ago as a student at Como Park High School. One of his art classes started its own ice carving competition.

"I did that and had some fun," he said.

Zupfer took a break from ice in college when he started entering the St. Paul Winter Carnival's annual snow sculpting competition.

Zupfer eventually found his way back to ice though and has since made it an annual tradition.

He said the first step in ice carving is to identifying what he wants to carve.

"Sometimes it's just a challenge coming up with a design," he said.

Many of Zupfer's past sculptures include a variety of animals in a wide range of different poses.

However after Zupfer got married - he used an ice sculpture to propose - he moved away from the animal ice sculptures in favor of ones with much more meaning: his children.

"I carved my wife with each of our three children the year they were born and since then I've started cycling through the three kids," he said. "Those are probably some of the most special sculptures."

Zupfer said he typically tries to carve his children in unique moments of their lives.

"I want the moments with my kids just being typical kids," he said, "just trying to capture special parts of their personality."

Once Zupfer has a design in mind, he draws up a template, which looks at the design from all angles, to help give him a map for when he starts carving.

During the St. Paul Winter Carnival competition Zupfer is given a total of six hours to turn a block of ice into a sculpture.

Zupfer's primary tools of choices are the chisels, however he said he will occasionally use a chainsaw to help get rid of some of the bigger pieces of ice.

"I start out by carving out the general outline before I start turning it into a three-dimensional sculpture," he said. "I've forced myself to use a few power tools to make it easier on myself."

'Glacial Grace'

Zupfer encountered some unforeseen difficulties in this year's competition when his ballerina sculpture broke at the ankles.

"I knew it was a little bit top heavy with that big tutu," he said. "I was lucky that I caught it."

Zupfer was able to freeze the ballerina back into place. However, he did tread more lightly when it came to shaping around her legs.

"I was pretty conservative after that," he said. "Ideally I would have taken some more ice off and done some more shaping but I had to back off of what I had originally planned - ice makes you adjust since it's not always forgiving."

Zupfer said he hopes to continue competing in the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival ice carving competition for as long as he's able, despite the fact that his artwork is soon lost.

"It's this fleeting art form that you don't know how long it's going to be around," he said. "A photograph is really the only evidence you have that it ever existed once it melts."

Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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