The Meadville Tribune
By Lorri Drumm
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
The southern border of Conneaut Lake, once home to a thriving ice harvesting business more than 100 years ago, will again be surrounded by many large blocks of ice, carved into some amazing shapes.
The Conneaut Lake Community Development Committee (CLCDC) hosts the inaugural Winter Ice House Festival on Feb. 27 at Ice House Park along Route 6 and 322 at the east side of the borough.
What began as an effort to bring ice sculpting to the area blossomed into a community-wide festival, according to festival planner Sandy Eldridge.
“People can come all day Saturday to see the ice carvings and watch the three giant sculptures being carved, all at no cost,” Eldridge said. “We’re also having historical presentations, community projects, live radio entertainment, door prize drawings and a chili cook-off.”
More than 30 ice sculptures will be delivered and carved on site by DiMartino Ice Co. of Jeannette. Art DiMartino founded the company in 1968. Art’s son, Ernie, is now president of the company. Ernie has been carving ice since 1988.
Three giant sculptures including a 90-inch Muskie, a giant captain’s seat and a horse and carriage will be carved by DiMartino and his crew starting Feb. 27 at 10 a.m., according to Eldridge. “People like to sit on the seat or pose in the horse and carriage and have their picture taken,” Eldridge said.
“I was trained to carve ice years ago by a chef,” DiMartino said. “Many years ago chefs started using blocks of ice to keep food fresh at outdoor events. Somebody decided to get creative and make something out of that block, and ice carving began.”
DiMartino describes his winter ice carving business as a labor of love.
“We create our sculptures in some pretty cold and wet weather,” he said. “One year at a festival in Franklin the temperatures were below zero. That’s tough for us and our equipment.”
If you picture ice sculptures carved by chisel, you’re somewhat right.
“We do use chisels sometimes, but our primary tool is a chain saw,” DiMartino said. “We also use sanders, router bits, reciprocal saws and household irons.”
The irons are used for fusion, and in case the ice breaks, according to DiMartino.
“There are occasions where the ice breaks while we are carving it,” he said. “We call it the Humpty Dumpty effect. What did they do with Humpty Dumpty? They put him back together again.”
Robert Higareda has been carving ice with DiMartino for more than 20 years. Higareda has had his fair share of Humpty Dumpty situations.
“One time I was carving a lady with wings during a competition,” he said. “I was almost done and she shattered into about 10 pieces. The whole crowd muttered a big ‘awe.’
“We fused her back together and I finished the carving,” Higareda said. “I won first place with that carving. The crowd really gets into watching us as we create our sculptures.”
If members of the crowd want to take a break from being fascinated by the ice carvers, they can head across the street to Conneaut Lake Fire Volunteer Department Station 3 to learn about the history of ice harvesting and warm up with some chili.
The Conneaut Lake Historical Society will also present the history of ice harvesting at the lake at Station 3 from noon to 3 p.m. “It’s interesting that we are bringing ice back to the same location where the Conneaut Lake Ice Co. was founded in 1880,” Eldridge said.
The chili cook-off is from noon to 3 p.m. at Station 3, according to Eldridge.
“Seven local restaurants will compete to win best chili bragging rights,” she said. “For just $5 per ticket, people can sample all seven varieties, and then when they vote they will get a big bowl of chili.” After chili connoisseurs vote, their stub is then entered into a drawing for door prizes, according to Eldridge.
Participating restaurants include Silver Shores Restaurant, Toni’s Lake Dinor, Antonio’s Italian Restaurant, Walt’s Tavern, Conneaut Lake Park Volunteer Fire Department Station 5, The Downtown Mall Bistro and Mariner Steak and Seafood.
“This event has really involved the entire community,” Eldridge said. “Local merchants, churches, schools, the library and Girl Scouts are just a few of the groups that have gotten involved.”
Many of those groups took part in a community project called K.N.I.T. (Keeping Neighbors in Touch).
“Those groups have been busy making squares to an afghan that will be presented to the Samaritans of Conneaut Lake at the opening ceremony Saturday at 11 a.m.,” Eldridge said. “Seeing the ice sculptures is really something to behold, but seeing the community come together is just incredible.”
DiMartino said carving ice has taught him to see not just the sculpture, but life in a different way.
“You notice the fine details and you start observing things differently,” he said. “Before you know it a light bulb goes on and you’re paying more attention to life too.”
Lorri Drumm can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can go
The inaugural Winter Ice House Festival is Feb. 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ice House Park on Route 6 and 322, at the east end of the borough. Opening ceremonies are at the park at 11. Ice carving is from 10 to 2. A chili cook-off is from noon to 3 at Conneaut Lake Volunteer Fire Department Station 3. The Conneaut Lake Historical Society presents the local history of ice harvesting at Station 3 from noon to 3.