STLCC FLO Valley Student Newspaper, February 2013.
A frozen castle, scuba diver, and three chilly pigs emerged on the street in historic downtown St. Charles last month.
The St. Charles Historic Downtown Association started the yearly ice festival in 1998 and the “Fete de Glace” Ice Carving Competition has been a hit ever since. The competition consists of two categories, the single block and the two-man Monster Carver Class. The attending crowd picks the winners by casting votes for their favorite sculptures. The competitors compete for cash prizes and bragging rights.
According to Vice President of the St. Charles Historic Association Mike Maurer, the competition has seen Olympic ice carvers compete, as well as many local ice artists over the years.
The Monster Carvers Class begins with five blocks of ice weighing 260 pounds each, three and a half feet tall, twenty inches across and ten inches wide. The blocks can be stacked on top of each other giving the artist a large canvas to work with depending on the design being carved.
“When the ice first starts taking shape, people really gather around to watch the carvers with their electric chainsaws and all their tools,” Maurer said. “Its fun and some of them are really spectacular looking.”
Elbow to elbow crowds gathered around each of the seven carving stations, covered by canopies, to watch the ice being manipulated into different designs. Cold weather is great for the event, but keeping the ice blocks shaded from the sun is important because ultra-violet rays can crack the ice internally.
The starting bell is followed immediately by the vibrating buzz of chainsaws breaking through the air as the rough cutting work begins. Carvers send a shower of pulverized ice into the sky that falls like snow while wasting no time sawing off any larger chunks of ice not needed.
Bill Melson, a 30-year veteran ice carver from Hot Springs, Missouri, does not travel to many competitions anymore besides St. Charles. Melson’s carving named “Confrontation” displayed a dog squaring off with a bear.
“I started out as a chef. That’s how I got into it. That’s how most of the guys get into it,” Melson said. “I keep doing it because it is fun.”
The event’s first-place winning sculpture, named “Castle Fight,” belonged to the team of Russell and Helms. Dremel tools, hand chisels, and drills helped to bring the medieval carving to life with visible rock walls, soaring towers, and a drawbridge.
White ice crystals were frozen and hanging in the castle’s artist hair while they happily shared informational tidbits about the art of ice carving to an attentive audience.
The team also offered treats of gold foil covered chocolate coins to a delighted crowd from inside a carved ice chest. The words etched on the front of the chest read, “Vote for Castle Fight.”
The team of Snider and Phetsedesak won second place with “The Reef” an underwater scene that included a swimming scuba diver, seaweed, and a large fish. The diver was complete with fins, air tank, and mask and the scales of the fish glistened while hiding in the seaweed.
Angie Snider and her ice carving husband, Eric, own Chip Off The Block Ice Carvings in Staunton, IL. Both Eric Snider and his partner, Art Phetsedesak, are chefs by trade and met while working together in an Illinois hotel.
“Most people have seen an ice carving, but have never seen one made,” said Angie Snider. “It’s fun and it’s exciting to watch somebody use a chainsaw to make something. You don’t see that every day.”
One of the world’s largest ice carving contest is held yearly in Fairbanks, Alaska. “The World Ice Art Championship” attracts teams from more than 15 different countries to carve massive scenes in a stacked ice block canvas weighing 46,000 pounds. Temperatures can hit thirty below zero at night, but the freezing weather does not stop approximately 45,000 spectators from attending the event.
The St. Charles ice festival takes place every January. For more information visit www.historicstcharles.com. For pictures and more information for the Fairbanks, Alaska competition visit www.icealaska.com.