Story of a...Ice Sculptor

Joe Rimer, 48, keeps cool by creating life-like sculptures made from giant blocks of ice.

Anthony Rollins

“Practice makes perfect. Technique is a huge component to ice sculpting—knowing how to weld ice together and what you can do with the ice to show it off best. The one thing that always travels with me is bubble gum remover—it’s refrigerant in a can (for repairs).”

Born and raised in Bradenton, Rimer graduated from culinary school in 1985. He worked as an executive chef at The Memphis Country Club, where he found a cache of ice-carving tools. Soon, Rimer was creating ice sculptures for the club’s Sunday brunch, then he began entering competitions and moved on to bigger things. “All of a sudden, I found myself doing ice sculptures for the casinos in Mississippi.”

In 2008, he and his wife Lianne opened Ice Pro in Parrish, between Tampa and Bradenton, close to his parents’ homestead. “We are state of the art, utilizing everything from computer numerically-controlled, three-axis routers to razor sharp Japanese chisels.”

“We keep our freezer at a 12- to 16-degree environment. Often, we’ll work in there for as much as 10 hours a day. To keep warm, we wear thermal gear—gloves, boot warmers.”

“We make our own crystal-clear 300-pound ice blocks, approximately 40 per week, strictly for our own production.” Ice Pro supplies ice shot glasses and life-sized sculptures—as many as 1,300 a year—to hotels and conventions throughout Central Florida and the U.S. “You can get a shot glass for $1.75, but a standard 3D ice sculpture is going to be in the $400 range.” It takes Rimer 3 ½ to 4 hours to create an average-size sculpture.

To deliver the finished product, “we use sleeping bags and a lot of foam to get it from point A to point B. We’ve transported ice sculptures in the middle of summer. If they come out of a 10-degree freezer, and they’re double-wrapped in a sleeping bag and laid inside a car, they can last for three hours and still be frozen solid.”

“When we did the Super Bowl this year in New Orleans, we did Beyoncé’s after party, we did a display for Pepsi with a giant ice bar—it was a massive amount of ice sculptures, two truckloads. That was the most rewarding experience because while we were doing the set-ups, people were seeing it, and they were like ‘wow!’ ”

In 2011, Rimer and his team set a new Guinness world record in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the world’s longest ice bar. “It was a 207-foot ice bar that required a total of 17 blocks of ice—each one weighing 2,500 pounds.”

Rimer’s Guinness record is impressive, but not as challenging as his 13-foot-tall statue of Elvis. “The guitar alone weighed about 400 pounds, and we welded that in place. Just the massive ice—when you’re cutting and finishing off where the feet weld on to the pedestal—you have this underlying fear that it’s going to break and fall over.”

“Ice is a great medium because it’s going to melt, and you’re going to redo it, and you get better when you redo something. But somewhere down the line, I want to attempt marble or something other than ice.”

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