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  • Ida Beltran-Lucila

Baisas Brothers: A Story of Fire and Ice

There is a team of Filipinos firing up the international ice carving circuit. These 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, most recent of which were the 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 a childhood, and possibly a rite of passage, and 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 their way working in hotels and cruise ships as carvers with ice, fruit, vegetables and pastries. This was the ticket that lead Ross and Antonio to Quebec and 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 with endurance. One is expected to haul on average 10-15 blocks of ice, hauling and stacking about 135 kg, working in frigid temperature 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 doing the route of competitions 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 solidness 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 with 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 art and engineering, also skills 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 superhumanness, 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!

This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

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