Doug Gomersall set up a temporary work area on the cement in front of Cape May County Technical High School's front entrance on a cold day recently.
To his right was a pushcart holding his tools - chain saws, handsaws and chisels of all sizes, with extension cords running from the cart to inside the school. To his left was a 40-by-20-inch cardboard box resting upright on a hand truck.
A crowd of students was gathered around him, bundled in winter clothes and waiting, their breath visible in the cold air.
Some sat on the cement, knowing they'd be there awhile, while others stood inside the school, watching from behind the glass doors where it was warmer.
Gomersall took a box cutter and traced its blade around the perimeter of one end of the cardboard box, then shimmed the other end upward, slowly revealing a snug-fitted, 300-pound block of frozen ice.
"Now that's a nice piece of ice," said Gomersall, as he stood back admiring the enormous ice cube.
Gomersall is a professional ice sculptor from Cape May, with a background in culinary arts.
He purchases his blocks of ice from Sea Isle Ice Co., based in Sea Isle City, and creates his ice sculptures inside a walk-in freezer, which is located on his property in Cape May and is kept at about 24 degrees.
He has been sculpting ice for more than 20 years as a hobby and a side job, creating custom order sculptures for clients' special events. He's made love birds, liquor ice luges, castles and more. As an annual tradition, he also sculpts an enormous ice throne for Sea Isle City's annual Polar Bear Plunge, which was held this past weekend.
One day per year since the start of his ice sculpting career, he volunteers his time at Cape May Tech, teaching its culinary arts students how to sculpt ice. This year's ice sculpting demo was held Feb. 14.
Gomersall and Cape May Tech Chef Instructor Dave Masterson attended the Culinary Institute of America together years ago and have been close friends since, which is how the partnership began.
This year, Gomersall and the students created four ice sculptures together - two clowns, an elephant and a circus ring leader - each carved from a 40-by-20-inch block of ice.
The sculptures took the entire school day to complete, and several students helped out by sawing, chiseling and sweeping away the frost shavings and ice chips as they fell to the ground.
By the end of the day, they had four completed sculptures. They loaded the finished pieces back into the cardboard boxes and hauled them into a large freezer in the culinary arts' kitchen, where they will be stored until the school's Prom Fashion Show, which is in early March. This year's fashion show theme is a circus.
Masterson said that to be either a chef or an ice sculptor, you have to be creative, which is why he invited Gomersall to host the demos.
"We came up with the idea to try to pull in some of the artistic abilities that chefs have," Masterson said. "Plate presentations, color contrasts, dedication to your craft, consistency - these are skills needed by both a chef and an ice sculptor."
Another similarity of the two: their finished products often disappear in less time than it took to make them, either into people's stomachs or in puddles of water on the floor.
But Gomersall said as long as people like it, that's all that matters. In his opinion, ice sculptures even get better as they melt.
"You carve it big and bulky and as the day progresses, and the heat melts (it), the piece becomes delicate and defined," Gomersall said. "So just think of a swan: It starts out a little bulky, but later becomes delicate and graceful."
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To see how it's done
To watch a video of an ice sculpture being made go to the Lower Cape section of Hometown at PressofAtlanticCity.com and click on the YouTube link.