Tahoe artists cashing in on frozen assets
Call it the dawning of the ice age in South Lake Tahoe.
Edwin Winslow has sculpted ice for 10 years, the past four as a full-time ice carver at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. As his talent and experience grew, he found he could shape the medium to his will, to make it do just about whatever he desired. That is, with one notable exception.
Could Winslow transform his passion into his own private business? The South Lake Tahoe native was working on an ice sculpture one day last year at Harrah’s when he got an idea. Why not turn his frozen assets into even more cold, hard cash?
The result of Winslow’s epiphany is Ice Magic – a new business he operates with partner Ron Harmon Jr., which produces ice sculptures for weddings, parties, corporate functions, private residences and just about anyone in the Lake Tahoe/Northern Nevada area who appreciate chilled works of art.
Winslow began his career as a chef, something he accomplished by the age of 24.
“My mission then became to find something to evolve out of that,” Winslow said. “I’ve always had the desire to be the headliner. When I found ice carving, I found my passion.”
Winslow worked as a chef for 20 years, “in every one of the casinos.” He never considered himself an artist, until in 1988 he took some classes on human anatomy and sculpture and discovered his hidden talent.
A talented sculptor is a prized commodity in the casino industry – their talents are called upon for ice and food sculptures for parties, receptions and other casino events.
After taking a number of classes, Winslow became a full-time ice carver at Harrah’s, a position he retains today.
Meanwhile, Ron Harmon Jr. was taking a similar path. A native of Long Island, he was studying at the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park, N.Y. when he was recruited by a major hotel in Manhattan to join their staff. He learned the art of ice carving there, and for a time had his own private business. He came to Tahoe in 1991 to get married … and decided to stay. He is now the Executive Chef at the Tahoe Seasons Resort, and part-owner of Ice Magic.
Said Harmon of his birth as an ice carver: “One day I was watching a chef trying to carve a swan, and with my typical New York attitude I said, ‘Hey, I can do better than that.’ So the chef rolled out a block of ice and said ‘OK smart guy, go ahead.’ “
The pair now produce ice sculptures for all occasions, and the business is starting to take off. It would not be uncommon these days to find Winslow driving his pickup truck down U.S. Highway 50, with Harmon in the bed clutching a large ice reindeer.
“That’s the hardest part, actually,” Harmon said. “Transportation of a piece can be a challenge. Especially in the summer.”
Non-permanence is the irony of their chosen profession. Sculptors who work in bronze or marble will have their work on display indefinitely, but ice sculptors have only memories.
“Let’s face it, our stuff melts,” Winslow said. “We may do a piece for someone’s front yard, and if it’s in the shade, during the winter, it may last for a couple of months. But eventually it’s gone and all we have left are the photos.
“But that’s good in a sense,” he said. “Look at it this way: if a client orders something and it melts, he’s going to need another one.”
An ice sculpture also takes on several lives as it melts.
“A piece starts out as this sharply defined, striking thing, like crystal,” Harmon said. “But as it melts, it begins to take on other properties. It can be completely different, something to look at and admire more than once.”
Winslow and Harmon have produced some great art in their little freezer/studio on James Street near the “Y”. They’ve completed more than 250 sculptures this year alone (a piece can take anywhere from 30 minutes to four weeks to complete), and have won numerous awards in ice-sculpting competitions. The pair took first-, second-, and third-place awards at Embassy Suites Hotel competitions this year, and claimed a fourth-place trophy at the prestigious Nevada Museum of Art Rodin Competition in Reno last month.
“Competitions are wild,” Harmon said. “They just give you eight blocks of ice and say ‘Go!’ It definitely taxes your nerves.”
Said Winslow: “Harrah’s has been very good to me, supporting my education in this art in the form of a joint sponsorship. I can’t say enough about Dave Goodwin (Harrah’s executive chef) and the way Harrah’s has taken an interest in what I do.”
Harmon has similar plaudits for the Tahoe Seasons, which “has allowed me the flexibility to pursue this business dream,” he said. “They’ve been very supportive.”
Winslow sees the day when South Lake Tahoe will be a hotbed for ice carving.
“It’s the perfect place to practice this art,” he said. “The weather is cold most of the time, and there are a lot of casinos and hotels which value this work.
“This was almost a lost art for many years,” Winslow said. “But now it’s enjoying a boom time.”
And one might say that Edwin Winslow and Ron Harmon, Jr. are on the cutting edge.
Ice Magic can be reached at (530) 541-8558.
Would you like to see expert ice sculptors in action? Witness frozen artistry at its finest as many of the nation’s top chefs and ice artists compete for more than $7,000 in cash and prizes at Embassy Suites Sixth annual Hot Ice Sculpture Competition on Jan. 8-10 in South Lake Tahoe.
Individual competition is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9, with team competition on Sunday, Jan. 10. Both events take place from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Embassy Suites on U.S. Highway 50.
Visitors may observe the carvers at work or stroll through a gallery of creations. The pieces will remain on display for several nights at the entrance of the Embassy Suites.
The event is sponsored by the National Ice Carvers Association. General information: (800) 988-3724. Registration information: (530) 543-2129.
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