Moby Dick surfaces in Winona for FRFF

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John Njoes chiseled away at the ice sculpture located outside the Science Learning Center. Brad Farrell/Winonan
John Njoes chiseled away at the ice sculpture located outside the Science Learning Center.
Brad Farrell/Winonan

Abby Peschges/Winonan

Saint Paul artist John Njoes braved the negative wind chill to bring the Winona community an ice sculpture of Moby Dick in front of the Science Laboratory Center for the Frozen River Film Festival Jan. 21 and 22.

Njoes began carving four years ago when his friend, John Cooper, who assisted him with the whale sculpture, asked Njoes to help him.

This is the first year Njoes has carved for the Frozen River Film Festival. Njoes will return to Winona Feb. 4 as part of Rockwell Kent in Winona: A Centennial Celebration.

For the celebration, the Moby Dick sculpture at the Winona State University campus will be a companion to another ice sculpture at the Marine Art Museum, which will feature other characters from the book.

Winona State sophomore Timmy Turner found out about the sculpture through his ceramics professor, who had been talking about it for a couple weeks. “It was very exciting to finally see it,” Turner said.

As temperatures in Winona dipped below zero degrees Fahrenheit last week, Njoes said, “It’s almost too cold to carve.”

As part of the carving process, water is poured over ice blocks to freeze them into place within the sculpture. If the ice is too cold, it will crack when the water is poured onto it.

This happened to Njoes and Cooper as they were ironing a block, a process that smooths out the ridges made by a sander.
The ice blocks, delivered from Minneapolis, are placed, frozen together, and then carved using different kinds of grinders and saws.

“Chainsaws are the safest tool we use,” Njoes said. Many of the tools they use have a “touch of danger.”

Njoes also competes in ice carving contests. He and a team of friends from across the nation headed to St. Paul in mid-January to compete at the Winter Carnival.

Njoes said, “Ice sculpting is an art that some people are amazing at.”

Turner said, “It was so interesting to hear about the different ways they had to treat the ice as they cut and sculpted it. It seems so high maintenance, but I really like the finished product.”

The sculpture was funded by the Frozen River Film Festival, Boats and Bluegrass Festival, and Winona residents.

There was a lighting ceremony Jan. 25 at 7 p.m., and the sculpture was on display for the entirety of the Frozen River Film Festival.

The sculpture will be viewable again for the Rockwell Kent Celebration in February.

Contact Abby at
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John Njoes and his assistant got a look at their sculpture from a different angle.  Brad Farrell
John Njoes and his assistant got a look at their sculpture from a different angle.
Brad Farrell