Visitors to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Winter Lights display will notice amazing ice lanterns on display just outside the Snyder Building.

What’s an ice lantern? If you’ve ever filled an ice cream pail with water, and set it outside to freeze, then filled the hollow center with a candle, well, you’ve just DIY-ed an ice lantern.

Meet Jennifer Hedberg. This Minneapolis artist has taken the humble ice lantern and taken it to new levels of creativity and design. Earlier this year, she scoured the Arboretum’s grounds, seeking and collecting flowers, leaves and grasses. She’s incorporated these into her ice lanterns for Winter Lights.

Hedberg creates ice lanterns for venues, special events and displays throughout the Twin Cities. She’s even created ice bars. 

Her passion for ice lanterns started in childhood when the family relocated from sunny California to Massachusetts, where they encountered a 20-below-zero winter for the first time. Her mother decided that she didn't want "a house of mopey kids," so they learned to speed skate, ski and enjoy winter. And they made ice lanterns, first with milk cartons, then balloons.

"We’d fill balloons with water and carry them outside to freeze. Well, about half of them would pop before we even stepped outside. Water all over the place. But the ones that survived were beautiful."

With kids of her own, her ice passion returned. The kids came home from a birthday party with some of those punch balls in their treat bags, and I thought, 'They’re round and made of thicker rubber...' so I started experimenting.” 

And the rest is history. Today, Hedberg sells a how-to book and ice lantern-making kit — "Ice Luminary Magic: The Ice Wrangler's Guide to Making Illuminated Ice Creations" — so anyone can try their hand at making their own ice lanterns. She gets into the science of water and how and why it freezes and the many techniques in creating lanterns. 

Q: How did you get the idea to make a kit?

A: A friend loves these globes. She asked me to put the stuff into some small bags and she'd put them in her store. I said, "Who’d buy this?"  She said, "You’d be surprised." She sold out the first day. My husband said, "Wow. We’ve got a product here."

Q: What’s harder, writing a DIY book or a set of instructions for the kit?

A: (Laughter) When I said I was going to write a book, my husband was like, "What?" That's because writing instructions for the kit took so long. Have you ever written instructions for making a peanut butter sandwich for someone who’s never done it before? It's like that, all the incremental steps. Fill the balloon with water until it’s the size of an apple. But first you have to wrap the opening of the balloon around the faucet. You have to say that because a woman wrote me, ‘The water keeps spilling out.’ The instructions took a couple of years to get right, based on people’s feedback.

Q: Do you have a science background?

A: I think I would have made a passable engineer. Maybe if I’d been pushed toward STEM as a kid, but I was more artistic, and Mom came from Berkeley (California). So I became an artist. 

— Unsie Zuege



Unsie Zuege is an award-winning multimedia journalist, who enjoys community journalism, bibimbop, Netflix, Trivia Mafia and snuggling tiny dogs, not necessarily in that order.


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