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The Ice Men Carveth

By Christopher C. Pappas, Crimson Staff Writer

Surveying the freezer-room where he transforms ice blocks into sculptures, Brookline Ice's Eric S. Fontecchio remembers an odd order that he and his partner had to execute.

"Once, we did a big nose and a set of breasts for a plastic surgeons convention," Fontecchio says with a chuckle. "Now that was a strange assignment."

As the expert sculptors of Brookline Ice, Fontecchio and his partner Alfred J. Georgs can transform a 300-pound block into an intricate carving in under an hour.

Often working six days a week, the two have become an efficient ice-carving team that can crank out several sculptures in several hours.

"We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and we plan our work accordingly," Georgs remarks, nodding approvingly at Fontecchio.

Opening the door to their 26-degree workshop, Georgs explains their daily routine. He grips a chisel with his glove, and gestures toward large blocks of partially carved ice, describing the typical projects they undertake. Most of the carvings are for events like weddings, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

Now, the duo is preparing for one of its most challenging--and most rewarding--projects: assembling sculptures for First Night Boston, the Hub's gala New Year festival.

The giant sculptures require months of preparation, and are carved block-by-block then glued together on site at Copley Square.

Leafing through their portfolio, Fontecchio points out a scene of St. George slaying a dragon that they carved and erected for a past First Night display. That creation was nearly 40 feet high, and the team had to design special equipment to raise the already-carved blocks to that height.

Other New Year scenes have drawn from "Aladdin" and "The Wizard of Oz."

This year, however, their task is particularly daunting.

"There is so much more to do for the millennium celebration," Fontecchio assesses, his eyes widening at the thought of the work that awaits them.

"People expect things to be bigger and better. And the crowds will be absolutely huge. Forget Times Square, over two million people will be right here in Boston," he says.

The qualifications of Brookline Ice's sculptors are evident on its Web site, www.brooklineice.com. The company bills itself as the world's largest ice-carving specialists with their two "internationally renowned" ice sculptors.

They've been working at this trade "too long," says Georgs gruffly, with an air of exhaustion and sarcasm.

To be specific, Georgs, 61, of Reading, Mass., has been chiseling since 1994, when he relinquished his job as an executive chef in a Boston hotel.

A Newton native, Fontecchio, 36, was an art student before he began to do freelance ice sculpting. He joined Brookline Ice in 1983 at the urging of his brother.

As some of the only ice carvers in the region, the skill and reputation that Fontecchio and Georgs have developed are precious assets.

They will try to harness that experience in carving an unparalleled display for First Night 2000.

"We like to treat all our jobs equally, but this thing is a big deal," Georgs says. "You have to have a little fun every once in a while, and this is it for us."

But they seem to have fun with even the more commonplace orders. In one corner of the small room, Fontecchio dusts snow off of a heap of finished carvings. He reveals two kissing swans, a snowman and a New England Patriots helmet for an upcoming pre-game party in Foxboro.

"This is all the ordinary stuff," Fontecchio explains.

There are no templates, he adds; the team carves each piece according to the customers' specifications.

The ice sculpting process begins with a rectangular block of solid ice. The carvers sketch a rough outline onto the block with a black marker, and use a chainsaw to make a rough carving of the design. For details, they use finer hand-held chisels.

"There are a lot of steps to the process," Fontecchio remarks. "Even before you begin, sometimes you have to go to the library to do your homework and come up with a design."

Georgs, leaning against a workbench, brightens as he begins to recall some of the more unusual sculptures he has carved.

"We have done the likeness of a few people for their funerals," he says loudly, trying to drown out the hum of the freezer's fans. "We'll do really anything the customer wants."

After a long description of more memorable work, Georgs lists a few famous customers.

"We've done work for two presidents, too--Bush and Clinton," Georgs says.

Despite their expertise, Fontecchio and Georgs say they never enter ice- sculpting competitions.

"We don't need any awards to tell us that we are doing a good job," Georgs asserts vigorously. "Plus, those things are all politics anyway."

"Some people think fancy equipment or trophies make the artist," Fontecchio says distastefully.

He holds up a few noticeably weathered chisels that he has used for years to prove otherwise.

"It's all about creativity and originality," he continues. "That's what determines a good sculptor."

"And experience," Georgs adds sharply. "You can be a good artist and not be a good sculptor."

"Yeah, and experience," Fontecchio nods. "That's what really does it."

He pauses for a moment.

"When I first started," he continues suddenly, "it took me eight hours to carve a simple fish. Now I could do one that is three times better in about an hour."

And with less than a month remaining before the New Year, that confidence is reassuring for the First Night organizers.

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