Baisas Brothers: A Story of Fire and Ice

Baisas Brothers: A Story of Fire and Ice
Photo courtesy of Ross Baisas

There is a team of Filipinos firing up the international ice carving circuit. They are the Baisas Brothers, specifically Ross and Antonio Baisas, representing both the Philippines and Canada. They are international ice carving champions, having won more than two dozen awards, the most recent of which was 1st place for both Ice on Whyte in Edmonton and at the Winterlude in Ottawa.

Currently based in Montreal (Ross) and Ottawa (Antonio), the Baisas Brothers hail from the Philippines’ wood carving capital, Paete, Laguna. In this town, carving is something passed on from one generation to the next, a milestone of childhood, and possibly a rite of passage where everyone whiles away the time whittling wood. The name Paete has as its root word “paet”, which means chisel. Surrounded with this way of life and the fact that carving is the town’s main source of income, it is not uncommon for people of Paete to find themselves working in hotels and cruise ships as carvers of ice, fruit, vegetables and pastries. This was the ticket that led Ross and Antonio to Quebec to work for casinos under Loto-Quebec.

Competing as ice sculptors is no walk in the park. First of all, the main ice carving competitions are prestigious, and competitors are screened and selected. The rules of a competition are stringent. There are thematic and technical conditions to follow. Designs are submitted way in advance. So to be in the roster of competitors is already a feat by itself, and winning takes it to a level of incredible recognition and accolade. An ice sculptor has to have the artistic eye, the skills, the technical know-how, the instinct to adjust to the dictates of uncontrollable variables like weather, temperature, sunlight, and imposed time constraints. As if these are not intimidating enough, one has to be physically fit and must have endurance. One is expected to haul on average 10-15 blocks of ice, hauling and stacking about 135 kg, working in frigid temperatures for 34 hours, and working with power tools, i.e. chainsaw, grinder, gas cylinder, chisels, among others. On top of these, there are competition requirements on safety and environment care that need to be met while working.

The Baisas Brothers have been competing for 15 years now, travelling around the world and garnering recognition in Canada, the United States, and Europe. They compete in 3-4 international competitions a year, on average. They are not only judges’ choices but are more often than not, media and public favorites. Ice is their favorite medium because of its translucency and crystalline quality, and the challenges it presents with its solidity and unpredictability. Yet they have created stunning works with pasta, chocolate, sugar, grease, fruit and vegetables, snow and sand. No medium is spared, and they seem to get fired up with the challenges of working with each medium, in unraveling the secrets, and gaining mastery in its manipulation, and eventually, stretching the boundaries.

Artists find their way to ice sculpting through different ways. Some are formally schooled or mentored. The Baisas Brothers are self taught but their training and learning is endless. Despite all their accolades, up close the brothers are unassuming, friendly and have a wicked sense of humour. In outlook, they are positive and adaptable. At work, they are exacting, perhaps their own worst critic, analyzing their own flaws but taking it as a lesson to further their art. As partners, one complements and supports the other. Ross is adept at shaping and Antonio’s forte is the finishing and detailing. They are able to sense each other’s moods, and anticipate needs without verbal communication. They claim that they will keep on going as long as there is something they can conjure which they have not tackled yet. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the imagination.

Ice carving is not only about art and engineering but also requires skill and heart. The Baisas Brothers execute this through their burning passion, combined with cold grit. Amidst the cold environment they’ve chosen as their arena, is the fire to achieve greater heights, stoke their passion and enjoy the ride. My impression is that ice sculpting competitions allow a sense of super-humanness, an adrenaline rush – brought about by using power tools in unbearable conditions. Ice sculptors, having challenged themselves with their designs, work with full concentration, grit and determination, with all senses heightened since a small error, or mindless slip, could be fatal. They are a rare breed and it is stirring that blazing through this international circuit is a team of Filipino artists. Amidst the snow and ice, the Baisas Brothers, Ross and Antonio, are on fire!

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Ice carving is art and engineering; burning passion and cold grit; fire and ice
It is not just the skill for their carving but their eye in design, the attention to detail and the philosophy of the design as it matches and creates an imagery on the competition’s theme.

Fire to achieve more; break records. Learn from each step then improve. Ice sculpting provides power, a sense of super humanness, adrenaline rush, what with dealing with power tools and impossible conditions. Because one simple mistake can be fatal – involves full concentration, grit and determination. All senses are heightened. All this in the creation of a work of art.

Be careful and Always respect your environment. Presence under pressure.

Ability to pace. Find ways to hasten work when time is short – improvise.
Amidst the ice and snow, the Baisas Brothers are on fire!
Still dream of competing in Alaska which was unfortunately cancelled for this year – carving large blocks of ice, working with almost 3500 kg of ice
Earlier, was not sure which direction they would take in life
Could not believe they have stayed in this profession.

Ross even as a young boy was fond of drawing
Won back to back 1st place winners in Poland
Some competitions: requires to submit a proposed design; reproduce a presented image with limited tools; always there’s a time constraint
Loves the challenges; strives to do best; overcome most recent achievement; challenge yourselves; challenge your previous carving. So no favourite creation – because the most recent one would always

Top honours for Ice carving, snow sculpture
Built reputation in the competition circle in the last few years
Ice, snow, pumpkin, chocolate and even pasta sculpting – an art passed down from father to sons – no longer holds any secrets for these two highly-talented brothers who are making their mark all over the world.

Engages in 3-4 competitions a year, all over the world. The season competition see competitors moving from 1 competition to another – creating camaraderie, ribbing. In one competition they have teamed up with another Filipino from the US.

Part of competition: safety issues, clean working area
They are analytical – they could be their worst critic in evaluating their own work – which propels them to compensate and add another dimension, critical element in their next design
A lot of spur of the moment decisions – what with so many variable factors
Advice to aspiring carvers: look into your heart – commitment, passion. It is not easy. Start small, ie clay, vegetables, fruits.. Then if you really want it, or serious about it, invest in tools.

As of press time, the Baisas Brothers has once again won 1st place Judges’ Choice and Public Choice Awards at La Fete d’hiver Saint-Jean-Port-Joli International Competition at Quebec, snow carving competition.

Photo courtesy of Ross Baisas


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