Jennifer Hedberg is a seasonal worker about to be laid off — by the sun.
She turns ice into sculptures, lanterns, cocktail bars, towers and other looks-like-glass stuff. This time of year, she should be pretty busy, what with average temperatures still hovering around 30 degrees.
Specifically, she should be putting the final touches on the Middlemoon Creekwalk (see her blog here), a sort of frozen fantasy along a stretch of Minnehaha Creek south of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. Seven years ago, Hedberg thought it would be fun to scatter, quite secretly, some icy spheres and shapes along the creek, illuminating them with candles.
“We wanted it to be a kind of ‘ding-dong dash,’ to have people just stumble upon the sight,” she said, evoking the childhood prank of ringing doorbells and sprinting away. In other words, a mystery, but a really lovely one.
But with temps in the 50s this weekend, ice is toast.
Hedberg, 55, has been making ice globes for most of her life, ever since her parents moved the family from California to Massachusetts when she was 8.
“It was so cold and my mom was like, ‘How do I get these girls outside?’ ” she said. “She taught us how to make ice globes and I just never stopped.”
It was all for fun, though. Hedberg earned a degree in graphic design and worked freelance as well as with her cartographer husband Tom’s company, Hedberg Maps.
Three kids and community work filled in the gaps until 2009 when — in her annual ritual of making ice globes — she figured out a different way of making them using heavy-duty balloons and a special base. When a friend suggested creating a DIY kit, the Wintercraft business was born.
First, fill a pond with water
There are larger ice sculpting companies, as well as freelance sculptors who create replicas of buildings, corporate logos, ice bars and more.
Hedberg operates on a smaller scale, although her creations were on display recently in the Commons park by U.S. Bank Stadium for its Midwinter Light event. For the City of Lakes Luminary Loppet, she created the first Enchanted Forest on Lake of the Isles, which now has become a showcase for other sculptors.
“I would kill for a walk-in freezer,” she said, instead owning several chest freezers and, ideally, being able to consider her yard one big refrigerated warehouse.
Many of the Hedbergs’ creations begin by flooding pools in the yard. When the water freezes over to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, she and her husband lift the sheets of ice. Sometimes they crack into shards, which can give her odd angles for the shapes she makes, from ice walls to flower “petals.”
The globes, like snowflakes, have their own look, with different patterns of bubbles shooting through the sphere.
“Pure water freezes first, pushing any impurities to the center of the globe,” she said, explaining how the particles release oxygen as they move. “They’re like little comet trails created as the dust moves toward the center.” With a wry nod toward science, she calls them “shooties.”
“It’s embracing nature and working with it,” Tom Hedberg said.
She’s now hoping still to build a small-scale castle to be photographed for a children’s book, and is working on a how-to book of her own, “Ice Luminary Magic,” to be released later this year.
A last hurrah for ice
The impetus for the Middlemoon Creekwalk actually came from looking over all of the winter’s ice shapes that filled their backyard.
“You realize at some point that the sun is going to kill everything,” she said. “It was a way of giving all these experiments a last hurrah.”
After the first few stealthy years, the event has become highly anticipated. The Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association now rounds up volunteers to make their own luminarias and help install Hedberg’s sculptures.
Mary Arneson and Dale Hammerschmidt are among the contributors, the retired couple having schlepped 55 lanterns to last year’s event.
“There’s always been something about lighting things up in winter to make it more interesting,” said Arneson, who lives in Linden Hills. “I have this real weakness for snow sculptures. I’ve done them all my life. But seeing luminaries at the Loppet years ago got me thinking in a new way.”
Three years ago, Arneson began making lanterns to set out around their home. Then they started freezing more elaborate displays.
“We live near an elementary school, so the kids love seeing what we’ve made,” she said.
Arneson now can suspend ice cubes — think goldfish — made in specially shaped ice cube trays inside larger “panes” of ice. (Check them out on her blog, Icelanterns.blogspot.com.)
“It’s really brought the neighborhood together,” she said of the Middlemoon Creekwalk, noting how passers-by stop and chat, how other neighbors have started making their own creations. “It’s been” — and she can’t help herself — “a real icebreaker.”
It’s a joke in the midst of sorrow.
“This weather is making me so very, very sad,” Arneson said of our springlike temperatures. Still, if a cold snap arrives with a chilling blanket of snow, they know they could make a lot of ice lanterns in no time at all.
For now, though, they’ll monitor Hedberg’s Wintercraft page on Facebook for any chance that winter may yet return to winter, however briefly.
Hedberg is taking the long view.
“We could still do one in 2017,” she said. “But it might be in November.”