sculpting "Ancestral Spirit" in Alaska with Junichi (short version)

Our massive ice eagle is lifted into the air to be set atop "Ancestral Spirit" with heavy equipment.
Our massive eagle is lifted in one piece to be set atop the sculpture.
Ok, you're probably at this gallery because you want the short version. I was lucky enough to team up with Junichi Nakamura, Shinichi Sawamura, and Greg Butauski for the multi-block event at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. I took a ton of pictures during the event; this is the short sequence. The extended sequence of photos starts here.

Template layout: Junichi and Shinichi stand over the design template. The design depicts an eagle on the arm of a Native American warrior

O’Grady Pond: Right next to the ice park, this pond is the ice source for the competition. Note the blocks scattered on the pond’s surface

Ice sign detail: This is the sculpture design, shown frozen into an ice sign placed in front of our site

Moving the ice: Heavy equipment is required to move the massive blocks

Starting the foundation: The competition has begun and our design requires 2 blocks as a base level

Completed foundation: upon this blocky foundation, the other sculpture components will be put into place

Head and chest: The template for the figure’s head, chest, and shoulders on an uncut block. It will be turned horizontally during assembly

Figure midsection: The template for the figure’s midsection is applied to an uncut block

It's a lot of ice and we all got very tired. But Junichi is a master at managing a team and we got pretty much everything done. I learned so many things during the competition and most of what I learned, I still use.

Rough carving: Junichi rough carves the combined midsection and head & chest blocks.

Shaping the figure: The template use has nearly ended as the figure takes on details and rounded surfaces

Starting the eagle: Templates for the eagle are applied to large block sections after they’re moved into position

Face: The figure’s huge face takes shape. Notice the fracture running through the nose and chin

Nothing gets done in the multi-block event without the highly skilled boom lift operators. You can't even budge these blocks without heavy machinery and it's truly amazing what the lift operators manage to accomplish under occasionally questionable ice sculptor direction.

Top of the right wing: This will help attach the other lower wing portion of the right wing to the eagle’s body. The red square is a lifting point

Right wing and head complete: Use of templates has ended for most of the eagle. Notice the support strut running from body to wing

Raising the left wing: Notice the broken feather (second from the right) which will be easily repaired

Carving the left wing: Shinichi stands ready to carve the left wing. Notice the finished spear head in the background

There were lots of other amazing sculptures being created while we were working on ours. Right next to us was an amazing abstract sculpture by a team headed by Vitaly Lednev. His teams consistently win the abstract multi-block event and it's easy to see why.

Wing attachment: The left wing is skillfully lowered onto the body of the eagle while Shinichi looks on

Eagle ready for placement: The assembled eagle will be raised and placed on the figure’s arm

Starting the assembly: Junichi stands on top of the figure’s head and chest as it’s readied for lifting

Arm and spear: This is the final major component of the sculpture. Shinichi is working on additional small pieces for the front of our site

Cutting weld inlets: Junichi uses a V-chisel to cut channels in the upper weld surface to make it easier to get water into the weld

Head and chest in place: You can see me looking for the camera from behind the massive head and chest piece

Eagle ready for lifting: The straps have been carefully placed so that the wings won’t break and the sculpture won’t spin while in the air

Wide shot of site: In the center you can see the foundation and figure. The eagle is to the left and the arm/spear to the right

We ended up with a 24' foot tall Native American warrior with an eagle on his arm and second place in the event. Nobody got hurt during the sculpting. All in all, a major success.

Eagle in flight: Our massive eagle actually takes flight for a few short minutes!

The eagle has landed: Once the eagle has touched down, it’s carefully shifted into the proper position

Ice welding: Shinichi uses a giant syringe of sorts to shoot cold water into the weld between eagle and figure. It will quickly freeze

Scale of the sculpture: This photo of Shinichi and me helps demonstrate the scale of the sculpture. I’m a bit over 6’5” with my snow boots on

The printed message on the small ice sign that you see in one of the photos below reads:
“The spirit of the warrior's dead father has transformed into an eagle. This eagle has come to warn the brave warrior against imminent danger. The eagle guides him through the upheaval as he becomes a respected leader.”

Right arm and spear: Shinichi (bottom right) uses a chainsaw to correct the weld surfaces during attachment of the last major component

Ice sign: We placed this sign at the front of our site. The sign’s wording is included in the text section below. Note the use of white ice

Touching up the figure: Junichi works on small details of the figure from the back side scaffolding

Detailing the sculpture: Junichi and I work on various smaller details of the sculpture. Photo by Patrick Endres

Patrick Endres ( retains the copyrights to his photos used as part of this sequence and are used with permission. Shinichi Sawamura and Junichi Nakamura have authorized use of their likenesses and artwork in this sequence as well. Duplication or republication of these images or text without permission is prohibited.

Weedburner torch: Junichi uses a large torch to quickly “glass” part of the figure. (slightly warmer weather allows this) Photo: P. Endres

Adding the headdress: Early on, I carved numerous small tassles for the headdress. Junichi carefully attaches them as we near the finish

Final photo by Patrick Endres: Different colored lighting accents different parts of the sculpture

Titling the piece: Junichi has just completed freehand carving of the sculpture title into the base of the piece, one of his signature elements

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