Harbin, China – International Ice Sculpting Competition

Imagine teetering atop icy scaffolding, facing an 8-foot-tall block of ice.  Leaning forward, you thrust the tip of the chain saw into the frozen mass, hoping your numb fingers have adequately pressed the trigger, if not serious injury was likely.

In my case, maybe more than likely—I had never carved ice before, much less with a chainsaw.  In preparation for the competition, I was able to squeeze in thirty minutes of practice using a chain saw on a party-store block of ice…as it rapidly melted during the balmiest December on record in Washington, DC.


Luckily, it was enough.

Firstenberg Harbin China Text Image

I had to move through the fear, amidst challenging conditions. Remember the coldest you have ever felt? Now imagine enduring that feeling for several days on end, while racing against the clock, in competition with the world’s best ice sculptors.

It was an amazing experience. It was an honor being accepted by the Chinese officials to join the talented Tatyana Schrempko in representing the United States at this competition. Our Chinese hosts were most gracious and the camaraderie of our fellow competitors from around the globe was worth any discomfort, as was being awarded the creativity prize.

The design was a re-interpretation of my haunting self-portrait, a cast aluminum sculpture, La Mére.  Meant to first be encountered from behind, so one believes it is a woman’s ankle melding into her ruffled shoe, as one walks around the piece, the viewer discovers the its reality.