We caught up with Hugh and Howard Miller, two brothers that have helped create the ICEHOTEL...
What was the idea behind your design?
Howard: The idea of A Rich Seam is an analogy for the ice hotel itself. The term is borrowed from the mining industry (where minerals occur natural veins in the rock). We’re using the term as a metaphor for the rich seam of creativity and skill that occurs at the ICEHOTEL when the artists arrive for two weeks every December. A Rich Seam is also an analogy for the materials of snow and ice themselves. We see snow and ice as having a rich seam of potential in how it is used to make, build and sculpt.
Hugh: Our design is called A Rich Seam and is based on the concept of someone discovering a glowing piece of ice sticking out of the ground. They try to unearth it and in doing so discover it is part of a seam, leading underground. The set of spaces that make the room are kind of a by-product of the effort to try and uncover the seam. There’s also a reference to the nearby mine in Kiruna, which we find pretty neat.
The Finished Design: A Rich Seam
How did you first get in touch with the ICEHOTEL about carving a room?
Howard: Last year we entered a competition with the prize being the opportunity to sculpt a room at the ICEHOTEL, we knew it would be a long shot so were absolutely stunned and delighted when we were accepted. This year we applied again and were even more surprised when we were invited back!
What sort of training did you receive?
Hugh: Neither of us had any experience carving ice before. When we arrived in November, we received a crash course on ice sculpting in which we learnt how to use a chainsaw as well as chisels. I’m a woodworker and work with sharp tools every day but these were sharper than anything I’ve ever used in my life!
Howard: There was one guy whose whole job was to sharpen tools – it was that serious!
Hugh: It’s like a big community at the ICEHOTEL – everybody supports each other. All the artists and sculptors help each other, we all worked to help everybody achieve each other’s goals.
What did you learn from the first time you designed a room?
Hugh: Not to try and be too clever. The first time, many of the things we conceptualised ended up being logistically impossible once you understand the materials and the climate. Last time, we battled against the ice and weather a little bit – this time we wanted to meet them on their own terms.
Howard: You can’t try and make the designs too delicate. We made moulds of leaves and blossom in Liverpool and transferred them over. We used the moulds to make frozen ice leaves and glued them to tree branches with more frozen water; it was really laborious and difficult and within a few days it was all ruined. We tried to make the delicate bits in this year’s design a lot more robust because we now understand that people can’t resist touching the ice!
Let’s be honest – how hard was it?
Hugh: We thought it’d be easy. We looked at others and figured creating the empty room would be a piece of cake but it turns out that a basic, plain white room would take the ICEHOTEL team five days to make and that’s before they even began sculpting. Needless to say, it took us longer!
The Design in Progress
Were there any particular challenges?
Hugh: It seems obvious to say, but it was cold. Outside it was -25°C and inside it was a constant -6ºC so it was always challenging, sometimes even to think let alone use the tools. Our hand-winch snapped in the cold while moving the ice about which was also pretty hard. However, once you started working, you could build up a sweat quite quickly. We usually worked wearing just a base layer.
Have you slept in the room you created?
Hugh: On our last night here we stayed in the room - it was wonderful. The air is just so clean and cold, so you feel refreshed even if you don’t think you’ve slept that much. There’s something magical about lying there looking at the room made of different consistencies of water.
Howard: It’s really surreal. The landscape is just so beautiful, and then the rooms themselves are awe-inspiring.
Was it cold to sleep in?
Hugh: We didn’t find it to be; we had full thermals, sleeping bags filled with down and reindeer-skin rugs – and we’re northern!
Did you manage to enjoy any excursions?
Hugh: Unfortunately not – we were too tired from all the sculpting!
Any advice for visitors to the ICEHOTEL?
Howard: Enjoy it! It’ll be amazing – just remember to stop and admire your surroundings every now and then.
Hugh: If you ever feel cold, just start digging a hole.
Thanks Hugh and Howard. We’re really looking forward to checking out your room this year!
Hugh and Howard Penned a Poem to capture the spirit of A Rich Seam:
A prospector is magnetised to the North.
He starts digging.
Soon there is a cavern.
Is he mad? He buries the thought.
The earth is split.
A half light exposed in the half light.
Is there more? He thinks so.
He follows the rich seam.