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Keeping it cool and collected: The Ice Carver

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Central to The Learning Connexion’s philosophy is the notion of pushing beyond your comfort zone; of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It doesn’t come easily to most of us. Yet taking risks is precisely what propels us forward, not just in our art, but across our whole lives.

Diploma student Danielle Burns recently risked success and it paid real dividends, both in terms of confidence and income.

Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, Danielle heard about The Learning Connexion (TLC) during a visit to New Zealand a few years ago and resolved to return one day and enrol as an onsite student. That day finally came, along with the decision to apply for New Zealand residency in order to avoid the expense of international fees.  After a lengthy application process, Danielle signed up for our programme just a few short months ago and entered directly into Diploma level.


Already proficient in carving, Danielle joined tutor Perry Scott’s class and launched straight into carving some of New Zealand’s iconic Oamaru stone. It wasn’t long before student mentor, Carrie Burke, noticed Danielle’s work. She was impressed from the start and made a point of stopping by the studio from time to time to check on Danielle’s progress.

Carrie, for those who don’t know her, is renowned for her ability to sniff out creative opportunities to give students ‘real world’ exposure. And, it was with just such an opportunity that she contacted Danielle out of the blue one day. “I was driving along,” says Danielle, “when I got a call from Carrie asking if I would be interested in carving a block of ice at the Petone Winter Carnival. I had to pull over and let the fear of doing something completely new and out of my comfort zone subside. Then I quickly said ‘Yes, count me in!’ I figured it was worth a try and a great experience regardless of the outcome.”

Danielle had never considered the idea of carving ice or what it might be like as a medium. And, as someone who had only ever carved small items, nor was she prepared for carving a block measuring 1 metre x 500mm x 500mm. To get her started, Carrie suggested she freeze water in some ice cream containers and use them to practice on. 

Fears weren’t allayed when Danielle’s practice-runs saw the ice cracking in half as soon as she hit it with a chisel. All she could do was trust that it would be alright on the day.

She needn’t have worried. Once on location, and with some encouragement from Carrie, Danielle picked up her tomahawk and gave the block of ice a couple of good whacks. “It chipped away nicely so I just kept at it. I swung that tomahawk for almost two hours before finally getting rid of the block shape and revealing my design,” she says. Four and a half hours later and surrounded by a raft of delighted spectators, Danielle completed her ice sculpture.

“I had so much fun!” says Danielle. “Even though it was raining and cold, and I was completely drenched, I was doing what I love to do.”



From Carrie’s point of view, Danielle proved her ice sculpting chops that day.

“When I saw the light in Danielle’s eyes half way through the experience, I knew she had found a medium that excited her inner sculptor!” she says. It confirmed for Carrie that Danielle would be the natural choice to take on a commission she’d heard about from Ice Point, Wellington’s ice manufacturer and supplier. And, once again, Danielle accepted the challenge, despite feeling woefully inexperienced.


Just a few days later, Danielle found herself sculpting the form ‘H&S’ out of a massive block of ice. The ice sculpture was used as part of the Council of Trade Unions’ campaign against the changes to the Health and Safety reform bill; the melting ice signifying the watered-down bill. Placed squarely on the Parliamentary steps, it featured across all the major news channels that night. Ice Point was so impressed with Danielle’s efforts, that they immediately gave her a further commission. Now Danielle is formally ‘on their books’ and is eagerly awaiting her next assignment. “It’s an amazing feeling to get paid to do what I love,” she says.

 Ice sculpture at the beehive parliment


Danielle has proved that with determination, risk-taking and a little good luck, it’s possible to find yourself doing what you love and getting paid for it. She’s quick to point out though, that none of it would have been possible without the support she was given.

“I'm very grateful for the opportunity that Carrie has given me and the confidence and ability that Perry Scott is instilling in me. And, of course, the place that makes it all happen - The Learning Connexion.”       




  • Joan (GeeGee) Mehle
    07/10/2015 2:40pm (9 years ago)

    Congratulations Danielle, these are beautiful works of art. I am so proud of you. Yes, you sure did take on quite a unique challenge. But, with determination and self confidence in yourself, you proved your ability to do something completely different, was not only possible, it turned out to be very rewarding. Danielle, your talents are endless. Continue doing all these great works of art. They are really beautiful. Thanks for sending this. The write up is also quite a tribute to you and your works. Love you Always, Gee Gee