Do you like art? Many children feel the urge to create their own masterpieces from time to time.

When you feel creative, what do you reach for? Crayons? A paint brush? A ball of clay?

You probably don’t reach for a chainsaw and a huge block of ice. But believe it or not, that’s exactly what some artists do!

Ice sculptors use chainsaws and special chisels to sculpt works of art made out of large blocks of ice. Unfortunately, unless they’re refrigerated, ice sculptures have a limited lifespan.

For this reason, they’re usually created for special events, including weddings and fancy parties. Large restaurants and cruise ships also often feature ice sculptures on buffet tables or as part of decorative food displays.

Large blocks of crystal-clear carving ice are usually created with special machines. White ice blocks that look like snow are also used from time to time.

Artificial dyes are sometimes used to create colored ice blocks for special effects. Machine-made ice blocks aren’t the only source of carving ice, though.

In very cold areas, large blocks of ice can be removed by heavy machinery from frozen rivers, lakes and ponds. Frozen bodies of water used for harvesting ice carving blocks are sometimes called “ice quarries.”

Would you like to learn how to sculpt ice? If so, you might be surprised to learn that this particular art form is usually taught in culinary (cooking) schools, not art schools!

Since ice sculptures are used so often in conjunction with food and celebrations, culinary schools teach the skill. Art schools typically stick to sculpting materials that last longer, such as stone and metal.

If you’re interested in sculpting in nontraditional ways, there’s another form of sculpture you might want to check out: butter sculpture! Butter sculptures date back to the 7th century in Tibet.

They became popular as an art form in the late 19th century in the United States. Today, butter sculptures — especially “butter cows” — are still popular attractions at state fairs.

John K. Daniels made the first “butter cow” for the 1911 Iowa State Fair. Norma “Duffy” Lyon, also known as “The Butter Cow Lady,” took butter sculpture to a new level, creating likenesses of John Wayne, Elvis Presley and The Last Supper out of nothing but butter.

A typical “butter cow” is made by layering butter on a frame built of wood or wire. Smaller amounts of butter are then used to create fine details.

An average “butter cow” requires 500 to 600 pounds of butter, which is equivalent to about 2,400 sticks or enough butter for 42,000 cookies!


43 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (12 votes, avg. 4.42 out of 5)
    • Good morning, Bob Joe! We think the video was really cool, too! The ice sculptor in the video probably has a picture in his mind of what he wants the finished sculpture to look like, then he uses his tools (he used a lot of cool power tools didn’t he?) to help create what he sees in his mind. He’s probably been creating ice sculptures for quite a while, so he really knows what he’s doing! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hi, Taggert! The ice sculptures actually do melt over time. If it’s warm outside, they melt quickly. If it’s cold out, they last a little longer! If you look really closely at the ice sculpture at the end of the video, you can see water dripping off of it as it melts. :-)

    • A heart ice sculpture sounds GREAT, Faith! Make sure you get a grown-up to help you, though, and make sure everyone uses safety equipment like goggles and gloves! :-)

  1. I really enjoyed the video. The sculptures in the pictures are absolutely beautiful! These sculptors must have gone through lots of training to become this wonderful.

    • We agree, Allison! It takes a lot of skill and talent to create something that beautiful. Thank you for sharing what you thought about today’s Wonder! :-)

  2. You know that is awesome!
    But, butter, wow that’s a lot of sticks of butter and cookies!
    Oh, I just remembered, you should do a wonder of the day on how they invented french fries.
    See you tommorow!
    mak – makayla

    • We think it is more than COOL, Kaylee, we think it is REALLY COOL! Thank you so much for leaving us this great comment and for sharing that you have seen ice sculptures at your local park. :-)

  3. I love the video. It was so cool how the man sculpted the ice. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the ocean. You should make a wonder about why people go to school the whole day. I have a brother.

    • Hello, Elizabeth! Thank you for visiting this Wonder, for giving us a great idea for a future Wonder, and also for sharing that you have a brother. We hope you impress him with all the awesome things you learn when you visit Wonderopolis! :-)

  4. This was awesome. I actually learned about this in my agriculture class when we were learning about the different types of power tools. And bob joe, most sculptures, including sand sculptures, usually use a pattern or design on a piece of paper and go from there. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it sure looks fun and I would love to try it someday.

    • Thanks for sharing what you know about ice sculptures, kickingitBI6! We think it’s awesome that you had background knowledge about ice sculptures before you explored this Wonder…way to go! :-)

  5. They have Winter Carnival in McCall (about 2 1/2 hours away), where they have a bunch of huge ice sculptures. They have a different theme every year. A lot of the businesses make ice sculptures. They usually build one that is as big as a piece of play equipment with a slide or two for the kids to play on. They always have so much detail. I haven’t been in a long time, but it is a fun thing to go see.

    • WOW! Thank you so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder, Dawn! That Winter Carnival sounds AWESOME! We bet the kids (and grown-ups) have a lot of fun looking and playing on the big ice sculptures! :-)

    • We think it’s a really good thing that so many WONDERful Wonder Friends leave us their awesome ideas for future Wonders of the Day®, Mak! Keep WONDERing and keep those great ideas coming! :-)

    • We think the man in the video must have had a lot of practice sculpting ice, Paige…he’s super good at it! We also thought it was cool to watch the sculpture develop as he carved and sculpted it! :-)

  6. I watched the video and thought that ice sculpturing is very cool. I wonder how he does it? Maybe he sketches what he wants it to look like and uses his tools to create the picture in his mind.
    Ice sculpturing looks hard, but very fun. I wonder when he learned to do it? I think when he was younger, he was taught either by an elder in his family, or he took a class to sculpt ice. If I could sculpt something, I think I would sculpt a model of the Super Bowl XLV trophy since I am a HUGE Packer fan.
    For future topics, I think you should do a wonder of, “How do quotes inspire people and why.”

    • Hi, Emma! We think the video for this Wonder of the Day® is super cool, too! Did you know that when some people go to culinary school to learn to become chefs, they have the option of taking a whole class on ice sculpting? Ice sculptures are huge hits at weddings and big parties, and because lots of chefs cater these types of events, it helps them to know how to carve awesome ice sculptures themselves! :-)

    • We like all the faces you left for us in your comment, Natalia! We’re glad there are more smiley faces than frowny ones! :-)

    • Hi there, SuperSpy21! We’re not sure what the song in the video is, but we like it, too! Because we choose videos from many different places (like YouTube and Vimeo) to share in our Wonders, we don’t always know things like what songs are in them, or where the videos were filmed. We did a little extra WONDERing about this video, though, and found out that the ice sculpture took over two hours to complete! That’s AMAZING! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you sculpt ice?
  • Where is ice sculpting taught?
  • How much butter does it take to sculpt a “butter cow”?

Wonder Gallery

ice carving_shutterstock_2893294Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to check out some fantastic ice and butter sculptures? Spend some time browsing through these photo galleries:

What do you think? Aren’t some of those sculptures amazing?

Can you imagine the time and talent it took to create some of those works of art? Too bad they don’t last longer!

If you’ve been inspired by today’s Wonder of the Day, why not give butter sculpture a try? You can create small butter sculptures with just a single stick of butter. For help, watch this How To Make a Butter Sculpture video!


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Ice Climbing video to watch two ice climbers attempt to scale Bridalveil Falls, a frozen waterfall that stands more than 40 stories high in Telluride, Colorado!


Wonder Categories/Tags



butter  cow  ice  sculpture 

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