NEWS FEATURE: Artist hopes melting ice sculpture presages Israeli-Palestinian thaw

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c. 1999 Religion News Service

JERUSALEM _ As darkness settled over the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s old city, the wall of ice came aglow, first in white and then in a montage of bright, candy-cane colors _ pink, green, orange and blue.”Which do you like better,”glass artist Dale Chihuly shouted ebulliently to a crowd of onlookers gathered below the hilly approaches to the Old City walls to gape at this millennial sculpture of nature’s own reflective matter.”Do you prefer the colored lights … or the white?” The ice wall is Chihuly’s gift to the city for the upcoming year 2000 celebrations. It expresses his hope that the turn of the millennium will also be a time in which tensions dividing Jews and Arabs in the Middle East will melt and disappear.

Certainly the wall of frozen water was melting already on Sunday (Oct. 3) afternoon in Jerusalem’s 90-degree autumn heat, just hours after it had been precariously constructed out of giant ice blocks arriving here from the ice fields of Alaska.

Chihuly, smiling and shouting, red hair flying in the wind, dashed around the site making last-minute adjustments to the lighting, which ignited at sundown. He gleefully pointed to the crevices between the giant reflective bricks where water was already beginning to stream down to the ground.”See, those are the fault lines where it starts to melt first,”he said.”The ice starts out very clear and then it begins to make fissures and bubbles that make the colors more interesting.” Chihuly’s ice sculpture is part of a more extensive millennial exhibit of his work in glass, which was put on display earlier this summer at Jerusalem’s Tower of David museum, inside the walls of the ancient Old City.

The exhibit drew some 250,000 visitors in just the first two months, prompting the artist to design another piece for a grand finale _ this time out of ice.”I think the symbolism is obvious,”he said,”when you talk about bringing frozen water from an ice field halfway around the world to this desert sun.”For me, the ice wall is my present to the city. I hope it can be a metaphor for a melting wall as we turn towards the millennium. If it can make people think of the peace process, well then that’s great.” The ice began its journey from Fairbanks, Alaska, two months ago, traveling by rail and barge to Tacoma, Wash., and then by ship through the Panama Canal.

Housed in three refrigerated containers, it was then shipped through the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Early Sunday morning, the 64 tons of ice finally arrived by truck at a platform erected for the sculpture on the lawns just below Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Each cube weighed three tons, noted Chihuly. Shaving, wedging and positioning one block atop of the other was a precarious job that lasted nearly 18 hours.

All in all, the project cost some $100,000, financed largely by the Boeing Company, which is based in Seattle, Chihuly’s hometown.

Chihuly said the sculpture could be expected to remain intact only two to five days. He was hoping that the symbolism of the theme might be more enduring.

Meanwhile, he said, the water from the melting ice will be collected and channeled to the shrubbery on the lawns outside the Old City walls. And that, too, will be a small but meaningful contribution in a drought year to the water-parched desert landscape.


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