New Year’s Eve partiers in Boston have marveled at Alfred Georgs’s gleaming ice sculptures since First Night celebrations began in 1975.
Trained in Germany and Switzerland as an executive chef, Mr. Georgs transformed blocks of ice into scenes ranging from a New England seascape with pelicans to Hansel and Gretel, a fairy tale reminiscent of his childhood before World War II fractured his family.
“Alfred was a calming presence and a real workhorse. Both of our creativities combined made for some great pieces,” said fellow ice artist Eric Fontecchio, who collaborated with Mr. Georgs for the last 20 years on sculptures displayed in Copley Square.
Mr. Georgs, who was the former executive chef at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a longtime resident of Reading, died Oct. 18 at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers of cancer that was diagnosed five years ago. He was 77.
The chisels and chainsaws Mr. Georgs and Fontecchio used created scenes from the “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” when unseasonably warm temperatures in 1996 threatened to reduce their renderings of the Hunchback, Phoebus, Esmerelda, and several gargoyles into puddles.
“It’s good for us that it melts,” Mr. Georgs told the Globe in an interview as he worked inside the refrigerated rooms at Brookline Ice. “Otherwise, we’d work ourselves out of a job . . . and people would be handing these things down from grandmother to mother to granddaughter like an heirloom.”
Mr. Georgs said he was praying for a cold wave that year, but “unfortunately, we don’t have a direct line to God. Otherwise I would call him up and tell him, ‘It can rain and be warm today and tomorrow, but not on First Night.’ ”
While they worked bringing life to hundreds of blocks of ice, Mr. Georgs and Fontecchio listened to classical music and played their own version of “Name That Tune,’’ Fontecchio recalled. Mr. Georgs taught him about the composers and intricacies of symphonies.
“He was like a father to me in many ways,” said Fontecchio, whose own father died when he was 11.
He recalled that Mr. Georgs loved summer classical concerts at the Hatch Shell in Boston, where he always brought an elaborate picnic for his friends. “Alfred had a lot of class,” Fontecchio said.
Born in Hanover, Germany, in 1936, Mr. Georgs was the son of Anna Renne and Valentien Marten Georgs, expert bakers who owned a pastry shop. His father was taken prisoner by the Soviet Army during World War II and Mr. Georgs never saw him again. The family later learned that he died in a prison camp.
During the war, his parents sent him to live with an aunt and his cousins Marlies and Ingrid on the northwestern Germany island of Borkum in the North Sea. He remained close to them throughout his life, according to his family.
Mr. Georgs was 15 when he began his culinary apprenticeship in Germany. In 1954, he began working in kitchens in Zurich. He later worked in restaurants and hotels in Paris, Madrid, and London.
“Growing up during the war and having the experience of hunger, he said he knew that as long as he worked in a kitchen he would be able to eat,” said Mr. Georgs’s son Erich.
Mr. Georgs was married for 50 years to Yvonne, whose nickname is Evie. They met in England while working at the same restaurant and had two sons.
Mr. Georgs became creative food director for Hilton International in the 1960s and helped establish the hotel’s restaurants at resorts in the Bahamas and Virgin Islands, his family said. His first son, Jurgen, was born in the Bahamas and Erich was born in Puerto Rico.
In addition to his wife, and his sons Jurgen of Groton and Erich of Reading, Mr. Georgs leaves two grandsons.
Services were held in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Peabody. Burial will be private.
Raised a Lutheran, Mr. Georgs became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1973 after his wife introduced him to the faith. He was a devoted follower the rest of his life, Erich said.
Mr. Georgs’s travels for Hilton took him to New York and later to Boston, where he ran the dining rooms of the Statler Hilton. In 1971, Mr. Georgs marshaled his staff to create an entirely green-colored meal for the annual meet of the Clover Club, an all-male social club founded by Irish leaders in Boston in 1883.
“We did everything we could to make it all green,” he told the Globe. “Everything was green except the strawberry sauce and it’s pretty hard to make strawberries green.”
By the late 1970s, Mr. Georgs was executive chef at the MFA, where he oversaw the opening of a cafeteria, indoor sidewalk cafe, and the Fine Arts restaurant in 1981, when the museum opened its west wing.
Mr. Georgs created cuisine inspired by paintings in the MFA’s collection, including a dish he called Omelette Camille Pissarro.
“People here don’t want gigantic, heavy meals,” he told the Globe when the Fine Arts restaurant opened. “We don’t get lumberjacks from Maine! What we get are ladies. So we don’t have steaks or prime rib, or baked potatoes. We have food that is for calorie conscious, health conscious ladies.”
Gordon Switzer, a longtime friend, said he and Mr. Georgs became friends as Jehovah’s Witnesses and embarked on many hiking and camping trips, including visits to Alaska, Costa Rica, and Washington state.
“If you’re lost in the woods, he could tell you what kind of mushrooms you could eat and what kind of flowers,” Switzer said, recalling fireside meals Mr. Georgs prepared.
Mr. Georgs’s manner could be blunt and demanding, he said.
The chef did not wait around for late companions and had no qualms about correcting table manners or criticizing a cook, according to Switzer. Mr. Georgs once offered an unsolicited lesson on the proper way to eat soup and told him he held his fork and knife improperly.
The two friends were at a gala on a cruise once when the head waiter inquired about their meal. “It’s OK,” Mr. Georgs replied flatly.
“We had to grab the head waiter and tell him, ‘That was a compliment.’ There were other times when he would call them over and dress them down,” Switzer said.
Switzer said he appreciated his friend’s honesty and intellect.
“If you could get beyond that and just listen, you learned a lot,” Switzer said. “We had a mutual respect. He was a loyal and generous person. He loved life as much as any person I’ve ever met.”