Red Deer artists Brian McArthur and Dawn Detarando take on a highly laborious project at Sweden’s Icehotel. That icy wall will be carved with an intricate design of leaves and flowers. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer snow sculptors create the tropics in Sweden’s Icehotel

Brian McArthur and Dawn Detarando create a lush and laborious jungle room

Two Red Deer artists created spectacular jungle scenery out of snow and ice at Sweden’s original Icehotel.

Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur are back in central Alberta after spending 16 days carving overhead foliage and larger-than-life jaguars in the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, northern Sweden.

The world’s first ice hotel is remade from the ground up each winter and has hosted more than a million visitors over the past 30 years.

The jaw-dropping jungle room, created by McArthur and Detarando of Voyager Art and Tile, is winning high praise this season — and is even spotlighted in the opening shots of an online video for the latest Icehotel incarnation.

“We wanted to make an impression and show them we could do a good job,” said Detarando “— and we’re happy with the end result.”

The local couple, who’ve created many public art installments and won numerous snow-sculpting awards in Edmonton and Ottawa, were the only Canadians chosen from among 60 to 80 entrants to design one of the hotel’s 15 theme rooms.

Their imaginations turned to hotter climes for this project.

Inspired by the organic paintings of Henri Rousseau and the detailed tapestries of William Morris, the Red Deer artists presented a complex, tropical room that was carved over two and a half weeks in sub-zero temperatures.

Detarando and McArthur wanted to make eye-catching carvings — but their design was more laborious than anticipated.

There was little time for breaks, never mind sightseeing trips around Lapland, recalled Detarando, with a chuckle.

She and McArthur were glad to at least be able to share meals and some late-night sauna time with the other participants — who were designers, architects and furniture makers from across Europe, as well as Asia, Australia and South Africa.

“We learned a lot,” she said — including how specialized tools can help to make some of the repetitive sculpting tasks flow a little easier.

At one point, Detarando was so sore from carving out each overhead leaf and flower that she couldn’t lift one of her arms. “I thought, OK… I’m done…”

Some ointment made it better. But “at the end, we were quite exhausted” — and exhilarated to be part the collaborative experience, she said.

Many of the other carvers, as well as Icehotel staff, told Detarando and McArthur they were impressed by their giant jaguars under a canopy of foliage.

But the Red Deer artists were also amazed by the imaginative skills of the other sculptors.

A couple from London, England, created a concert hall-like space, complete with motion-activated symphonic sounds and theatrical curtains, while an Australian/Swedish team created an insect lair with bore holes in the walls and a giant anatomically correct queen ice ant.

Detarando said lights and music were often used to such great effect that she and McArthur will consider making their next sculpture more of a multi-media experience.

They hope to return to Sweden one day to carry out another Icehotel project.

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Brian McArthur, of Red Deer, tackles a giant cat carving at Sweden’s Icehotel. (Contributed photo).

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