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Mville mailman delivers awe on ice

Lake Stevens resident Chan Kitburi touches up a creation during the Pioneer Square Historic Holidays on Dec. 16, as Kirkland residents Miho and Peter Slavik watch. -
Lake Stevens resident Chan Kitburi touches up a creation during the Pioneer Square Historic Holidays on Dec. 16, as Kirkland residents Miho and Peter Slavik watch.
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SEATTLE Marysville mailman extraordinaire Chan Kitburi was showing off his skills in historic Pioneer Square last weekend, putting the holiday spirit on ice to the delight of tourists and locals alike.
The Lake Stevens resident is a master ice carver and has competed around the world at the elite level, garnering invitations to tournaments open only to the most gifted artisans.
For four days he and team member Dean Murray were wowing the crowd near the ancient pergola, creating wonders before their very eyes, and talking a good game all the while. The duo carved a huge four-ton snowman 10 feet tall that stood outside for the duration of the Pioneer Square Historic Holidays event Dec. 13-16. A menagerie of other creations were made, displayed and left to melt, while more intricate items were put in a freezer truck for storage overnight, only to be wheeled out again the next day.
For Kitburi the chance to work just a couple of feet from the inquiring public was a pleasure, not a chore. Time and again he would stop his work to answer questions or to explain just how he was able to pull the image from the block of solid ice. On Sunday he spent the better part of an hour working on a salmon riding a crest of an ocean wave, all carved from ice. Using power tools with various attachments, drills, abrading collars, chisels and water jets, Kitburi worked intensely but calmly. Asked if the constant stream of questions from passersby disturbed his concentration, he smiled and shook his head.
This is the only thing Im comfortable with, he laughed.
The most common question he hears is how did he get started, and then they seem to want to know how they could get into the craft.
Kitburi said the atmosphere is much more relaxed at a public display than at a carving competition, which are week-long exercises in creativity and endurance, in absolutely freezing weather. The weekends work was more like a casual round of golf with a friend as opposed to playing in a professional championship.
Kitburi and Murray have worked together at ice carving festivals in Canada, and will compete at Fort St. John, British Columbia next month. Murray competed against his teammate for several years until the Bellingham resident was able to join up with Kitburi two years ago. He noted how intently the Thailand native worked to get his ocean waves to look like the real thing. That perfectionism and attention to detail is why Murray likes having Kitburi on his team. Its also why he likes to work in a temporary medium like ice.
I hate to do anything permanent, Murray said, adding that he will carve sand, pumpkins, cheese, ice anything that will pass away. Thats because he and Kitburi are such perfectionists. If they were carving stone, they would keep looking at their work and finding flaws, year after year.
Its kind of nice that they melt, because you get your picture and then they melt and all your mistakes melt away, Murray laughed. He was posing with a four-foot tall bust of a bearded sage he called Old Man Winter. It took him about 45 minutes to create it; a unicorn of the same size took Kitburi the same amount a time.
For their casual attitude, the pair take their endeavors seriously. The Fort St. John competition requires the pair to create a work at least seven feet tall out of 15 standard blocks of ice in three days and Murray said the two will spend at least three months deciding what they want to carve, and then figuring out how to carve it. Plans will be faxed back and forth until they are comfortable with the art and the mechanics or engineering for the work. Not only does the work have to be beautiful, but the ice has to bear its own weight.
Peter and Miho Slavik of Kirkland said they were simply stunned watching Kitburi work on the salmon. They shook their heads as he deftly flicked flakes of ice from the surface and used a rasp knife to create the fishs scaly texture.
Its amazing, its fun to watch him work, Peter Slavik said.
Kitburi took a break to discuss his progress with Tim and Dorothy Williams of Kenmore, and Jonathan Bricker of Seattle.
All this work for just a couple of days of beauty, she laughed.
This piece is perfect for Seattle because its a salmon, Bricker said. I love it.
The brick square on First Avenue was covered with statues created by Murray and Kitburi; an elf, a bust of Santa, a rocking horse and many others surrounding the snowman centerpiece were glowing with soft lights changing color every few seconds. Those wooden cutouts that people stick their heads into to get their picture taken? Yesterdays news. Kitburi and Murray carved two sets of like size Eskimo families, with holes for faces. People were busy snapping pictures of their kids with their faces in the cutouts. According to Tim Wang, organizer of the Pioneer Square Historic Holiday, the chance to snag the ice carvers was a coup. Along with Christmas carolers and vendors, the pair were the hit of the event.
Its been really great working with them, Wang said.

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