FAIRFIELD — Another Fairfield High School graduate is headed to the Olympics.
Jillian Howell, 21, will leave for Alaska at the end of February to compete in the World Ice Art Championships, often referred to as the “Culinary Olympics of the Carving World.”
Ice sculpting is a skill she’s picked up in the past few years, after graduating from the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute and going to work with Chris Foltz, executive chef at the Oregon Coast Culinary. Each year he chooses two students to teach the ice carving business and to ready for competition.
“I watched him,” Howell said. That interest paid off as Foltz offered to teach her the art.
As a result, for the first time in her life, the 2009 Fairfield High graduate is working with power tools, such as chain saws and angle grinders.
Her first ice carving effort resulted in a fish.
“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “I had a lot of help. It was lots of fun.”
From there, she graduated to carving ice saws and, recently, an ice nutcracker for the ballet of the same name.
Howell came home for a few days at Christmas then had to return to the culinary school, where she is earning another degree, for the New Year’s Eve Ball, a fundraiser for the Alaska trip.
She helped create an ice room, ice bar and ice chairs for the event. About 60 blocks of ice, each weighing about 300 pounds, were used.
“You have this big rectangle and you have to make something out of it,” Howell said of the process. “That alone is such a feat.”
Shannon Poynter, who works with both Foltz and Howell, said she’s seen Howell “grow substantially.”
“She can take a concept and see it all the way through,” she said.
The World Ice Art Championship is an invitation-only event that features 70 teams from around the world. Howell and fellow student Amelia Rombach will be a rarity, as only two of the 100 carvers last year were women.
“It’s very rare to have women, let alone students,” Howell said.
Practice is the best way to prepare for the championships, Howell said. The New Year’s Eve Ball was a great experience, she said.
Knowing how to lift heavy items also comes in handy, she said. However, lifting a 300-pound block of ice is something that needs to be done by a team.
“Most of us can lift about half of that (weight),” Howell said.
Howell and her team will be given a 5-foot by 8-foot by 3-foot block of ice and 60 hours to create. For the multiple-block portion, teams are given 10 blocks, each measuring 4 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet. The sculpture must be finished within 132 hours. In past competitions, teams have sculpted art that is more than 25 feet tall.
Finished sculptures stay on display for the month of March. Prime viewing is at the end of the competition. Shade and sun screens are used to keep them intact.
Having the ice melt in Alaska is not much of a concern for Howell. The ice room built for New Year’s was still standing two days later.
In Alaska, the carving is done outside.
“The temps can be 50 below. It’s extreme,” Poynter said.
Poynter has great faith in Howell.
“She’s put in a lot of her own time (to learn),” she said. “You’ve got to have a certain level of dedication like she does.”
Parents Rick and Jan Howell are excited about their daughter’s work.
“Jillian knew what she loved to do back in middle school,” Jan Howell said. “She followed her dream and worked extremely hard.”
More details on the event can be found at www.icealaska.com.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.