30 Chinese sculptors, tons of ice on subtropical isle makes for cool attraction
On days when they’re carving ice, the 30 Chinese artists who have been working at Moody Gardens since late September crank up the heat — all the way to a balmy 17 degrees.
It can’t be too cold to make the ice carvings that will be part of Moody Gardens Ice Land: Ice Sculptures with SpongeBob SquarePants open to the public Nov. 15.
If temperatures are too low, the ice will splinter and crack, costing a professional carver a day’s work, and probably a little bit of his sanity.
When it opens, Moody Gardens’ Ice Land will be kept even cooler, at 9 degrees. At that temperature, Moody Gardens hopes that tens of thousands of visitors will spend between 20 minutes each walking through a SpongeBob SquarePants-themed Christmas exhibit.
When they arrive, those visitors will see more than 50 ice sculptures, some 30 feet high. They’ll be able to walk through ice tunnels and slide down an icy incline.
This year marks the inaugural run for Ice Land, but Moody Gardens already is committed to bringing the exhibit back for another two years.
Ice Land has been in the works for three years, because, it turns out, building an icy exhibit in Texas is no easy feat, organizers say.
Moody Gardens President John Zendt, one of the driving forces behind the project, traveled worldwide to find the right ice carvers, he said. His search brought him to Harbin, China.
In the northernmost reaches of China, Harbin is the site of a world-renowned ice sculpture festival, during which artists build veritable palaces completely from ice.
“I started looking at this project about 11 years ago,” Zendt said when announcing the event in July. “There’s been a lot of logistics to do with this project.”
Moody Gardens hired a team of 30 sculptors from Harbin to travel to the island and create the exhibit. The team works in three, eight-hour shifts, six days a week.
Because temperatures in Texas aren’t exactly the same as the Chinese tundra, Moody Gardens assembled a 17,000-square-foot tent for Ice Land. The tent is cooled at all times by a half dozen industrial-size refrigerator units.
The other challenge was finding the 6,000 blocks of ice the sculptors are using to create the exhibit.
Thanks to modern refrigeration, the industrial-block-of-ice-making business is not what it used to be. To create solid blocks of ice that are being shaped into the exhibit, Moody Gardens turned to a College Station-based business, whose cash cow in recent years has been selling blocks of ice with channels carved in them that happen to be popular with college students.
Ice Land’s ice will be decidedly more family friendly. Moody Gardens chose to make the exhibit SpongeBob-themed for a number of reasons. The character has been featured in some of the museum’s attractions before; his underwater nature fits thematically on the island, and he’s familiar to children.
Each visitor to Ice Land will be issued a thermal parka to help withstand the temperatures. If that’s not enough, hats and gloves will be available.
They’ll be on sale in the gift shop right outside the entrance.
ICE LAND: Nov. 15 to Jan. 4, Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd., in Galveston
Tickets: Adults $26.95, $21.95 seniors, $15.95 children