Icy creations meant to warm hearts

Kevin Gregory of Ice Concepts in Hatfield finishes a sculpture touting the Eagles as NFC East champions. His firm is one of the largest ice-sculpting operations in the Northeastern United States.
Kevin Gregory of Ice Concepts in Hatfield finishes a sculpture touting the Eagles as NFC East champions. His firm is one of the largest ice-sculpting operations in the Northeastern United States. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 05, 2014

As shivering but curious passersby stopped to watch, holding up scarves to shield their faces from below-freezing winds, Kevin Gregory lifted a 10-pound Eagles helmet made of ice onto a clear, frozen podium.

"Couldn't have asked for better weather - except for the sun," said Gregory, founder of Ice Concepts and the Eagles' unofficial go-to ice sculptor, on the 15-degree morning Friday.

Gregory, 45, has been carving ice since 1994, most of that time with his business partner, Antonio Young. He started operating out of a rented freezer space in Conshohocken with a chainsaw and some pictures, and now has a 7,000-square-foot, partially refrigerated facility in Hatfield, where he creates everything from wedding swans to fully functioning ice bar lounges, complete with frosted mugs.

If you've seen two guys with chainsaws hacking away at square ice blocks, it was probably Gregory and Young. Ice Concepts is one of the largest ice-sculpting operations in the Northeastern United States.

"It's a fun, fun job," said Bob Boyer, a contractor who often helps with the setup and heavy lifting. "And these guys are the masters."

Gregory developed an interest in the icy art during his apprenticeship at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H., and then cultivated it as a chef at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. Young also had apprenticed at the Balsams and came on board a few years later.

Initially, Gregory thought the job, like the sculptures, would be temporary, but demand from catering companies, convention centers, advertising agencies, and some individual requests, kept rolling in, and it became his full-time job. His wife, Lisa, manages the company, which does about 2,500 sculptures a year, with the highest demand during the holidays.

Sculptures range greatly in size and detail. Gregory says he has billed as low as $500 and as high as $40,000, though most works are between $500 and $5,000.

The Eagles have been working with Gregory for more than a decade, commissioning him to live-chisel his Arctic creations before each home game and for pep rallies and events.

On Friday, Gregory used a spray bottle and "carver's glue" (snow) to smooth out and secure his sculpture. The four-foot-tall shrine, with Eagles green embedded in the ice, read "2013 NFC East Champions" above a logo reading "Fly On," sitting atop Roman columns and a suspension bridge, flanked by two Eagles helmets.

The resident of Worcester, Montgomery County, doesn't do ice simply.

He made his largest sculpture last January - a 15-square-foot ice room for an event for VIP donors to the University of Pennsylvania. The lounge had a 12-foot-long bar with Penn logos frozen into the ice, individual ice glasses, drapery, and a chandelier.

"That was a great example of someone going over the top instead of just saying, 'Give me a swan on a table,' " Gregory said.

Gregory has done work for Burlington County - creating its New Year's sculpture honoring the year of the horse, and set to work on the Jan. 25 Mount Holly Fire and Ice festival.

His strangest orders? "I once did a large, probably eight-block, display of Mount Rushmore with Ronald Reagan's head on it. I have done Moses [with] the Ten Commandments. I've done statues of people. I have done quite a few of people's pets."

He's had to turn down a handful of distasteful bachelor party requests as well.

Gregory and Young are well known in the competitive world of ice sculpting.

They've gone to three consecutive Winter Olympics and won first place at the U.S. National Ice Sculpting Championship in February 2009.

Ice Concepts manufactures its own ice - the key to clear crystals is freezing the water evenly from the bottom up, to isolate the minerals at the top.

Unless a customer requests a live carving, the sculptors usually prepare work in their facility and then wrap and transport pieces in mini-freezers, assembling them on site with insulated rubber gloves and lots of layers.

Gregory and Young will also be at today's Eagles game. Look for the two bundled-up guys with chainsaws just inside the main gate.

On Friday, Gregory secured the final piece of the Eagles statue, about an hour before the pep rally attended by Mayor Nutter, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, cheerleaders, and the band.

Joe DeLullo, a painter with the city's Public Works Department, posed for a photo, a wide smile on his face, pointing to the sculpture.

"That, right there, that's Philly love," DeLullo said.


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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