The only penguin in the Lapland…

Friday, 14th February 2014

Destination Specialist

sweden lapland icehotel art suite penguins era

Inspired by the artistry inside the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland, Clare Wilson tried her hand at sculpting a penguin out of ice at an afternoon workshop. Here’s how she got on…

There’s something magical guarding all the wishes made in the Icehotel’s Secret Garden lobby this year; it’s a pure, brilliant white unicorn – crafted by Anna Sofia Maag, the woman who had just handed me a well sharpened chisel.

Before we headed into the workshop, she had taken us down to look out over the frozen river Torne. The river still flows sluggishly far beneath its frozen surface, and Anna Sofia explained a little about the process of growing the ice; it is by clearing off insulating layers of snow from the surface, that ice-farmers can harvest the huge blocks of ice that go into creating a full hotel from scratch every year.

And it’s the same ice that we – the afternoon ice-sculpting group – were about to attempt to carve.

Where the magic happens…

The ice sculpture workshop, like the Icehotel, is kept at a constant -5C and before letting us loose on our own blocks, Anna Sofia demonstrated a few basic techniques (shave, don’t stab), gave us some safety tips and advised us to get a mental picture of what we wanted to make before getting started.

I’ve always been a bit creative and, OK I’ll admit it, I’d had a brief go before – so I knew roughly what to do. The hardest part is deciding what you want to make.

My colleague Jennifer’s ice-racing-car ambitions were somewhat stifled by the blocks being of a ‘portrait’ orientation, but she gamely started carving her car nose-down – all was going well until two slightly over-enthusiastic chips knocked one back wheel and the tail off. All was not lost, however – Anna Sofia came to the rescue with a basin of what we thought was some special glue… and turned out to be water!

“More ‘Pingu’ than ‘March of the Penguins’…”

I’d decided I’d make a penguin, although not having too-clear an anatomical idea of a penguin’s physical proportions, it ended up far more Pingu than March 0f the Penguins. Hopefully I won’t be sounding too smug, but the satisfaction of seeing a definite beak and flippery wings emerge from the ice was incredible, and the afternoon passed incredibly quickly for both of us.

Whatever your level of creativity (and whatever the success of your chiselling) after trying your hand at ice-sculpture you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation of the incredible talent and artistry that goes into creating the rooms and suites of the Icehotel itself.

Profile of an Ice-sculptor

Profile: Anna Sofia has been a professional sculptor for 13 years; she first came to the Icehotel as an artist 8 years ago and has been a regular at the Icehotel for the last 5 years. As well as ice, she has worked in clay and concrete.

Best thing about working in ice? The transparency – it’s the only medium that you can see all the way through. I also like that you can instantly see what you’ve done.

Most challenging thing about working ice? The same things!

What’s your favourite thing about running the workshops? It’s such a different craft – it’s fun to see peoples’ ideas. Some people know what they want to make, some people do something completely crazy!

You can see more of her work at

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