First Person

Ice, ice baby

For the 25th year, Lawrence ice sculptor Don Chapelle is prepping for First Night Boston, hoping temperatures cooperate.

By Shira Springer
December 19, 2010

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How do you decide what to sculpt for First Night?

It’s got to be a family piece, and it’s got to make sense. This year, I’m doing a piece called Orca with killer whales. It’s going to be an appreciation for how lucky we are to still have them on the planet.

How big will it be?

A lot of it will depend on the weather. It will be close to 30 tons. We’re going to try to get up to 18 feet with one of the whales.

How do you assemble large-scale sculptures?

These orcas are so massive there’s no way I can do them in my studio. So we’re going to try to do them out on the Common. If the weather is bad, if it’s warm for three days, we might make a couple of them at the studio, chop them up, then ship them and assemble them there.

What’s the most difficult thing about sculpting ice?

It’s heavy, and I’m a small guy. I’m a marathon runner. It’s tough moving those 300-pound blocks around when you weigh 145 pounds.

What about less-than-ideal temperatures?

If it gets above 42 degrees, we’re in big trouble. The combination of sunlight and warm temperatures is the biggest problem. With First Night’s assistance, we’ve chosen the Brewer Fountain site, because it gets shade pretty much all day. When it’s getting sunlight, we’ll use all sorts of tricks to cover the sculpture up. If it’s really warm and sunny, we’ll just cover it up and work at night.

Any tips for keeping warm while carving?

I work in a freezer. You get the right clothing; it’s just like sitting in your office. It perks you right up.

Do you consider yourself an artist?

Last year, I sculpted Michelangelo sculpting David. It was just beautiful. So I think I’m improving.

How tough is it to have the ice sculpture dismantled or melt away?

Honestly, I have no problem with the stuff melting. I’ve heard the day after, you can see my sculptures bobbing down the Charles River.

Don Chapelle (Globe photo / Joanne Rathe)
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