Such frozen works once might have been something that only the most well-to-do could afford, but Ideas in Ice Inc., the only business of its kind in the metro, makes ice sculptures something anyone can use to impress guests.
Ken Burkemper started Ideas in Ice more than 25 years ago. Seeing a need for this unique type of art in the Sooner State, he left his job as a chef at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club after noticing that many of his colleagues were asking him to make ice sculptures for them.
Flash-freeze to the present and Ideas in Ice is more popular than ever, creating frozen works for everything from high school graduation parties to some of the biggest organizations in-state, including the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Ice, for me, was just another food medium,” Burkemper said. “I had a Japanese friend in Dallas who was an excellent ice carver, so basically I grabbed him and said that I want to come down and watch [him] carve. It’s just practice, practice, practice and lots of practice. I’m still practicing today.”
That practice has paid off, too.
Burkemper can take an immense block of ice — painstakingly created in large vats through special techniques used to make it crystal clear and bubble — and carve an amazing (and amazingly functional) sculpture in about an hour.
“It is a unique medium, in the fact that if you’re dealing with just about any other medium, like rock or stone or clay, your results aren’t as fast coming,” he said. “Ice is a very fast medium to manipulate — not so much because it’s melting. It is strong and fragile at the same time.”
With awards lining the walls of the business office, Burkemper said the most difficult sculpture he ever carved was in a competition in Ottawa, Canada, where he and his nephew, John Flottman, crafted a work titled Braveheart. Depicting an American Indian man grabbing the feathers of an eagle, it consisted of about 20 blocks of ice and stood 18 feet high.
Flottman, now Ideas in Ice’s lead sculptor, was interested in sculpture while in high school. He had only expected to work at the shop for a short time; that turned into almost a decade. Except for the dry-ice frostbite on his knees, he said he has found ice sculpting a rewarding outlet for his artistic sensibilities.
“I’ve done everything from your basic swan and vases to competition pieces, which are fun because you can really pull out all the stops. You can freeze things together and make them big, a lot bigger than the piece you started out with,” he said while chiseling an intricate ice-bowl.
“We do all sorts of crazy ones, like anything dirty you can think of for a bachelorette party to random things that might be an inside joke to somebody else.”
Whether for an upscale corporate function or a group of soused bridesmaids, he said ice sculptures add class and production values to any event.
“People go to a party and, most of the time, there’s a lot of drinking and fun,” Flottman said. “But then they show up and there’s a 150-pound crystal-clear block of ice ... and it’s a lot of fun. It’s just cool, in more ways than one.”