Ice shanty project showcases artistry of trades workers

“Welcome to the Boiler Room Shanty, celebrating the people and pipes that keep us warm!” With those words, Clara Schiller greets visitors to her shanty on While Bear Lake. But it’s not the traditional ice house that you’d find on a Minnesota lake in the winter. There’s no hole for catching fish; instead the tiny building houses a working boiler and other materials related to pipefitting.

Art Shanty Projects is a month-long event that transforms a frozen lake into an interactive, artist-driven community. The 2016 shanties range from one featuring a sound chamber to hear “music” from under the ice to a “peace train” structure where visitors can express their thoughts on creating peace.

Visitors can circle the buildings on giant, pedal-driven bears drawn from Dakota legend.

In the 10 years of the Art Shanty Projects, Schiller’s is believed to be the first to focus on the craft inherent in the Building Trades. It was selected from hundreds of proposals submitted last fall.

“It’s a way to take a step back and look at the art of pipefitting,” said Schiller, a third-year apprentice with Pipefitters Local 455 in St. Paul. She also is a mentor in an AFL-CIO-sponsored project to help other women succeed in construction careers.

Amelia Foster is co-artist on the project and helped flesh out the concept. Numerous friends aided in the actual construction, which was done at the Hack Factory, a member-supported space in Minneapolis for dabbling in all kinds of projects.

The centerpiece of the shanty is a working boiler, fed by wood and routing hot water through pipes on the wall via gravity. Schiller’s cousin, Royce Schiller Olson, a Boilermaker, built the boiler. A union carpenter, stagehand, electrician and six Pipefitter apprentices all had a hand in helping with the construction.

“I feel really fortunate to be in a trade where people are willing to help others find their way,” said Schiller.

Schiller did the pipefitting and created the displays, including a wall of historical photos and another featuring sections of pipe.

Visitors approaching the shanty are sometimes put off by the authentic-appearing signs that read, “Boiler Room Shanty: Authorized Personnel Only” and “Danger: Confined Space Permit Required Prior to Entry.” Schiller assures them they can enter and gives each an “Authorized Visitor” sticker.

Once inside, she explains the mechanics behind the boiler and fields questions about the process. The warm water circulates using only gravity because she was not allowed to use a generator on the lake, Schiller notes. The red emergency stop button on the wall illustrates what you would see in a typical boiler room, but this one “is not really connected to anything.”

Young people enjoy checking out the different sizes of pipes. Occasionally, someone really makes a connection, as when a 12-year-old girl was able to pick out her classroom on a blueprint of a local school.

By the afternoon of the first day of greeting a steady stream of visitors, Schiller was clearly a bit tired but also exhilarated.

“This project has been more work but more fun than I previously thought possible,” she declared.

The Art Shanty Projects are open every weekend in February, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Access is best from the boat ramp at White Bear Lake County Park. The project is free and open to the public.

Article by Barb Kucera reprinted from WorkdayMinnesota.