That time between sunset and dark on cold Minnesota days is magical. Even when the air is so sharp it cuts, it softens ever so slightly as the indigo twilight approaches.
This is the moment when ice lanterns lit from within begin to show their stuff: 30-pound spheres of crystallized water glow against snowy landscapes, their lacy intricacies and star-burst patterns coming to life as night falls. Their beauty is so compelling that even their creator, Jennifer Hedberg, pauses to observe the impact of her work.
This is why she does it. These ethereal scenes are her payoff for spending hours in the cold, forming ice into shapes that range from simple frozen orbs to fragile spears that sparkle and gleam like fine, carved crystal. Only the process of freezing wields the knife, however; Hedberg simply manipulates it.
You might have seen her signature ice globes, lanterns, and sculptures at the City of Lakes Loppet or along the boulevard in the Linden Hills business district. Or maybe you’ve noticed the ice lantern kits she sells under the Wintercraft label at a number of area shops and garden centers. But you’ve never seen anything like the ice sculpture garden she built one subzero day in Ted Bair’s south Minneapolis yard.
In the summer, this is a gardener’s garden, with sculpted hedges, pampered shrubbery, ponds flashing with giant koi, and shady seating areas from which to contemplate it all. Much is hidden come winter, though evergreens and hardscape features give the gardens year-round interest, and water in the deepest pools continues to gurgle beneath the pelt of thick snow. To transform the yard into a garden of ice sculptures, Hedberg froze nearly 100 globes to deck Bair’s entrance, walkways, doorstep, and backyard. She created ice vignettes of multiple cylinders that delicately balance candle-lit spheres above the deep snow, while ice-glass spires tower over them. Bare branches above the dormant ponds and bridges in the backyard sparkle with candles inside suspended bottles, contrasting with the dark shapes of evergreens and garden sculptures.
In the mid-winter dusk, the scene is otherworldly.
A Californian transplanted to Minnesota as a child, Hedberg learned to love the cold by playing with ice. As a kid she was fascinated with icicles, building snow castles with jagged icy battlements, and soon graduated to making ice lanterns in buckets, bowls, and balloons. She and her mother experimented each winter, always looking for better ways to create the shapes they wanted.
After three decades of working with this most transitory of media, Hedberg is full of tricks for molding ice. She learned by trial and error what happens as water freezes (impurities are pushed toward the center of a mold, away from the cold). When a balloon or other mold is filled with tap water, the outer ice will be very clear, while the ice closer to the center will show the spikes created as the minerals travel toward the center. (Very cold temperatures make for especially dramatic effects, she says.) The lantern is “done” when the outside is solid and the center still water, roughly 14 to 18 hours, depending on its size and the temperature.
Hedberg’s globes range from 9 to 30 pounds, or roughly the diameter of a soccer ball on up to nearly beach-ball size. On their own, the globe lanterns add a glimmer of mystery to winter landscapes or make an eye-catching centerpiece for a dinner table. For outdoor displays, Hedberg also makes “ice glass,” irregularly shaped sheets of thin ice, by laying plastic in the snow, filling it with water, and freezing overnight (depending on the temperature). The organic shapes form naturally. The art, she says, is in putting it all together.
She creates towers and combines ice pieces by fusing them, forming water and snow into a sort of clay to glue them together. The perfect temperature for building with ice is 8 degrees, she says: Any warmer you get wet (and in her world, wet equals pain); any colder is “unnecessarily cold,” she says.
Hedberg has learned how to deal with cold: by dressing for it. When she’s building with ice, she wears thin, wool glove liners under rubber gloves, uses hand warmers, and keeps several extra pairs of gloves wrapped around a heater in an insulated bag in her car. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, ” she says. Spoken like a true Minnesotan.
Ice Globe Lanterns, made easy…
After years of making ice lanterns with balloons that popped or froze to the ground or got misshapen, and jury-rigging pie tins as bases, Jennifer Hedberg got serious about ice lanterns. She found the perfect balloons and designed a plastic base deep enough to hold them exactly right as they freeze into icy shells.
Once she perfected the accoutrements for her icy craft, she created Wintercraft kits, which start $12.95 and are now sold in numerous area shops and at wintercraft.com.
Minnesota Monthly editor Amy Nelson recently took a stab at making ice globes of her own—learn more here.