Ideas in Ice

A chef, a sculptor, an artist. Ken Burkemper has used his entrepreneur skills to create a unique service. You see, Burkemper is an ice sculptor, one of a very few of his kind in the state of Oklahoma.

“I never thought this would be full-time,” he said. “When I got started in the business (1989) there were only about four full-time ice carvers in the country. The profession was really in its beginning.”

Burkemper had done some woodcarving and began ice carving as a chef in food preparations. When he began ice sculpting he owned a gourmet deli in downtown Oklahoma City. After juggling both businesses for a while, he decided to sell the restaurant and devote more time to his ice carvings.

Now he specializes in sculptures for weddings, birthdays, family reunions, corporate events and holiday parties. “For years we have been putting the WOW into people's events,” he said. The demand has grown so great that he has hired a full-time assistant, his nephew, John Flottman.

“The biggest thrill of doing this for almost three years now is when Ken gives me a suggestion on how to position a head or a hand. It opens up a whole new world of ideas that I had never thought of before,” Flottman said.    

The process begins with a 300 pound, 40-20-10 inch block of clear ice. “The white that you see in the ice from your freezer is caused by the water being frozen from all directions and freezing from the outside in,” Burkemper said. “What is left is the minerals that are trapped and freeze in the ice.”

Clear ice is made in Burkemper's warehouse by freezers that cool from the bottom only and water pumps are placed at the top of the tanks to keep the water moving.

“If you have seen ice on the sides of a river or pond in the winter, you have probably noticed that the ice is clear. This is because the water is cooled from the top and the movement of the water underneath keeps all of the minerals and other impurities flowing by,” he said. “The underneath cooling and the water pumps work in the same way.”

It takes a full three days for a block to freeze completely. Afterwards the block is ready for carving. Buffalo, turkeys and even Christmas trees are carved from the ice. Originally, a chainsaw and chisel were the tools used for the trade. Today there are a variety of Dremel type tools available for achieving fine detail in carving.   

Once the creation is complete, the carving is placed in one of the large freezers for storage until the time for delivery, which can bring on a whole set of problems. “Vibration can be the worst for an ice carving. I developed a system for loading, with a forklift, onto a palett and secularly attaching the carving in the back of the truck for transporting,” Burkemper said. He has three freezer trucks to assure that all of the carvings arrive in pristine condition.

After the ice creations arrive at the proper destination, it is set on display. Sometimes lights, flowers and other decorations are used to bring out the brilliance of the ice. “It's a vanishing art, however they will last through most any event,” he said. The sculptures have what is called a viewing time in which they look really good and that usually lasts for about 10-12 hours.

Burkemper and Flottman enter in national and international ice carving competitions, which are sanctioned by the National Ice Carving Association (NICA). Burkemper has won awards in competitions all over the United States, Japan and Canada.

“We just love going to these events. All of the carvers are friends and we pretty much know who is going to win and who isn't.”

Overall, Burkemper says people sometimes don't see the value because the perception is that his art is just frozen water. He always says that after a big event, “all that is left are pictures and the memories.” And what better way is there to create a special event than ice carvings?

Log onto www.ideasinice.com for examples of their work.  Call Ideas in Ice at 495-4423 for information about how Burkemper can create something special for your next event.

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