Ice sculptor Stan Kolonko, featured at this weekend's Winterfest, carves out a living with frozen water
Ice, ice baby:
Stan Kolonko (below, left) and ice carver apprentice Jerry Perun wield some of the tools used to turn blocks of frozen water into incredibly detailed ice sculptures; more of those tool are shown on the facing page.
When it comes to winter, Central New Yorkers approach the ice and snow with a heavy dose of hardiness and a fair amount of creativity. But few can match Stan Kolonko. For him, ice is a livelihood—and his passion. Kolonko, owner of the Ice Farm in Auburn, is a world-renowned ice sculptor. His idea of a good day is working with sharp metal tools in freezing temperatures for up to 12 hours at a stretch—preferably under cloudy skies with no wind.
“Those are the best conditions for the ice,” he says matter-offactly.
Kolonko, 40, who got his first taste of ice sculpting while studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, has competed all over the world. He and his team took first place in the Harbin International Ice Sculpture Competition in China last year, a crowning achievement on a long list of awards and medals.
On Saturday, Jan. 29, Kolonko will bring his talents to the Skaneateles Winterfest. He will give two sculpting demonstrations, and about 20 different sculptures will be showcased throughout the village for an Ice Sculpture Walk. One of the demonstrations will be on the west lawn of the Sherwood Inn, where Kolonko once served as head chef. The other is planned for the parking lot of the Byrne Dairy.
“I’m looking forward to the Skaneateles fest,” Kolonko notes, taking a short break from his carvings. “Especially the demonstrations; I love showing people what I do and talking with kids who come and watch. It’s a very different atmosphere than a competition, where I have a short time to work on a specific project, and I need complete focus. Demonstrations are a lot of fun.”
By combining his love of sculpture with a vibrant, hectic business, Kolonko has found a unique way to earn a living doing what he loves. The Ice Farm, housed in a garage that holds two gigantic walk-in freezers, provides hand-carved ice sculptures for just about any personal or corporate event, and supplies local sculptors with high-quality carving ice. Kolonko says his reverse osmosis filtration machines produce a high-grade product that is optimal for carving—crystal clear, with no bubbles.
When he’s not bundled in winter gear and wielding a chainsaw, Kolonko is probably in his chef’s whites. He is a partner with S&B Catering in Auburn, and frequently prepares the food at events held at the New York State Fairgrounds. During the State Fair itself, he supervises up to 85 staff at various sites.
Kolonko says he knew when he was first exposed to ice sculpture in culinary school that it was a creative pursuit that would hold his interest. “I did my first carving in 1988, and I just kept doing it whenever I got a chance,” he explains. “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop.”
These days, Kolonko juggles more straightforward requests—such as a corporate logo carved into a single block of ice for a party—with the complex, multiblocked fine art sculptures. While his competition schedule varies from year to year, Kolonko says he always tries to get to the annual Crystal Garden International competition in Ottawa and the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Competition, Kolonko explains, while satisfying on a personal level, has also influenced and inspired his sculpting in various ways. “The camaraderie I have with the other sculptors is the best thing—interacting with the other artists. I may only see them at the competitions, but that exchange of ideas is what I really love. The competitions are like a big classroom for me. Artists come from Japan, China and Russia; they have different ways of doing things.”
While people marvel at Kolonko’s precision with a chain saw when they see him at a demonstration, he says he has finessed his techniques over the years, along with his tool collection. “I’ve probably got $80,000 worth of different carving tools,” he says. “When I started, you basically used a chain saw, some Chinese hand tools, and an ice pick. Things have really evolved over the last 20 years: The tools are getting better every year. It’s easier to get more detail. My chisels are getting rusted because I don’t use them anymore.”
Kolonko, a native of Camden, in northern Oneida County, says he believes sculptors— and the companies that insure them—are now more demanding when it comes to safety, and that has had a direct influence on the quality of the tools sculptors are now using.
As much as he loves the artistic challenges of sculpting, Kolonko says the travel involved is difficult. He and his wife Heather have a 10year-old son, and it is rare that the entire family can travel together. “I take on more because I enjoy it, and the competitions actually do promote the business as well,” Kolonko says. “But my ultimate goal changes every year. I would say the hardest part is trying to have that balance. I have to do a lot of planning.”
Kolonko says one reason for his success is the fact that his artistic goals never interfere with his business goals at the Ice Farm.
“The competitions and demonstrations are fun. But when it comes to the commercial stuff, it is always what the customer wants,” he says.
With the annual competitions in Ottawa and Fairbanks coming up, Kolonko he is looking forward to the more laid-back atmosphere of the Skaneateles Winterfest. “As long as the winter weather holds out, I think it’s really going to be great.”
Look for the map on page 4 displaying all the points throughout Skaneateles that will be featuring a Stan Kolonko ice sculpture.