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Odd Job: Ice Sculpting

Need a frozen work of art for your next party? Call Robert Chislett.


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Robert Chislett, pictured with an ice-etched self-portrait, says his work is “a reminder that everything is temporary.”

Photo by Mitch Tobias

When a buzzy Bay Area tech company wants to celebrate its IPO launch, party planners bring in Robert Chislett to make the event even cooler. The artist and owner behind Chisel-It Ice creates elaborate frozen sculptures that last for only a few hours, but won’t soon be forgotten. Diablo visited Chislett’s Concord studio to learn more about his chilly craft.

 

Career Change

While training to be a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, Chislett took an ice-sculpting course. After graduating, he worked in kitchens from New York to the Bay Area—helping to open The Club at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton and the now-shuttered Patrick David’s in Danville—but kept carving ice as a hobby. Then, “someone offered to pay me for it,” he says, “and I thought, Maybe I can do this.”

 

Tools of the Trade

When Chislett began ice sculpting full-time in 1998, he primarily worked with chisels and chainsaws. Today, the Chisel-It team uses computer-​programmed machines to cut shapes before carving in details by hand. The most surprising tools? An iron, for cleaning up edges and clearing cloudy ice, and a hair dryer for rescuing machines that have (literally) frozen.

 

A detailed salmon is one of many animals the team has crafted. Photo courtesy of Chisel-It.

Office Space

Chislett’s studio comprises one 40-by-20-foot freezer set to 15 degrees. To drown out the blare of compressors, machines, and chainsaws, the 8-to-10-person crew blasts jazz fusion and rock ’n’ roll tunes. They also go through a lot of hand warmers.

 

Dress Code

Ski pants and jackets, hats, steel-toe boots, earmuffs, and safety goggles are standard studio attire. “It’s like going to Tahoe,” Chislett quips. But installing the creations at events often requires a change of clothes. To position a 10-foot Taj Mahal replica in the middle of a swimming pool, for instance, “I had to get into swim shorts while the waiters were all walking around in tuxedos,” he says.

 

Chisel-It created a stagecoach  for a Wells Fargo event. Photo courtesy of Chisel-It.

Labor of Love

Chislett has done business with many big-name brands—Facebook, Google, and the Warriors among them—and says the most common request is for logo-emblazoned sculptures. He also makes a lot of ice thrones, chandeliers, and luges—the latter for pouring liquor through. The creations can last up to six hours in optimal conditions. Chislett’s most ambitious effort was a 100-foot bar for a party in Atherton. “I thrive on that type of stuff,” he says. “I love a creative challenge.”

 

Side Hustle

Want to beat the summer heat? Chisel-It sells coolers filled with snowballs. And thanks to the craft-cocktail trend, the company also makes ice cubes in specialty shapes like spheres and diamonds, and ice with objects such as flowers or plastic babies frozen inside. chiselit.com.

 

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