By Paul Tennant
---- — LAWRENCE — If you give Donald Chapelle a block of ice, he can create anything: Dogs, whales, houses, seaweed, people, you name it.
Doing business as Brilliant Ice Sculptures, his work has been featured in First Night Boston for more than 20 years. This year his creations included “Nice Puppy,” displayed at 840 Boylston St. in Boston, near the Prudential Building.
The piece includes a huge canine with a pink spiked collar and a dog house. He has also created a sculpture of Kitovi, a fur seal pup that was born at the New England Aquarium in August.
The work includes the seal’s mother, Ursula, and her father, Isaac.
Chapelle, 55, a North Andover resident who works out of his shop on North Canal Street in Lawrence, said he has been carving blocks of ice into practically everything one can think of for 35 years.
It started as a way of beating back boredom, he said. While working at the Holiday Inn in Springfield, he said, he would make ice sculptures during the evening.
“It was a creative outlet,” he said.
While pursuing his 33-year career as a chef, he kept using his chisels and other tools on ice. The old saying, “practice makes perfect,” seems to apply in Chapelle’s case.
For example, “Whale Pods,” an ice sculpture he created for First Night 1994, was very authentic in appearance. One can easily identify in a photo of the work five life-size humpback whales, along with schools of fish, dolphins and seaweed.
Chapelle is a large-scale artist. In creating “Whale Pods,” for instance, he used 110 blocks of ice, weighing a total of 11 tons. The piece was 32 feet tall and 52 feet wide.
Chapelle did very well in the culinary profession, working as executive chef at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and holding similar positions at the 5-star Hilton International hotels in Geneva and Vienna.
Several years ago, however, he decided to concentrate on ice sculpture, his first love, he said.
“I am a recovering chef,” he said with a laugh.
Chapelle uses chain saws, chisels, knives, drills and a variety of smaller, finer tools to make the ice come alive. He works at his shop and at the various locations where his work is displayed.
While at the shop, he sculpts the ice in a freezer kept at 15 degrees. Chapelle stays busy throughout the year, he said — even during August.
So is there a lot of demand for ice sculptures? Chapelle said he keeps busy carving frozen sculptures for corporate events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and other functions.
“We make our own ice,” Chapelle said, although sometimes he buys blocks from Cape Pond Ice Co. of Gloucester. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the ice that he transforms into all sorts of images, he said.
“Just plain old water,” he said. A typical block of ice measures 40 by 20 by 10 inches and weighs about 300 pounds, he said.
Generally, Chapelle’s intricately carved sculptures don’t last very long. They melt or get chopped up after the event they graced has ended.
Chapelle said the short life span of his art work does not faze him.
“That’s one of the novelties of it,” he said.
Chapelle is originally from Enfield, Conn., where he picked tobacco during his youth. He has lived in North Andover for 25 years and has two sons, Julian, 27, and Ryan, 26.