Winter blizzard does not stop Ice Time Festival

Published 11:04 am Monday, February 5, 2007

By Staff
DOWAGIAC – What do you get when you combine 400-pound blocks of ice, buzzing chainsaws, single digit temperatures, a blizzard warning and a small southwestern Michigan town? Dozens of ice sculptures lining the streets Dowagiac.
An intricate pterodactyl captured first place for Andrew Thistlethwaite in the professional ice carving competition at Saturday's 11th annual Ice Time Festival.
Thistlethwaite was one of 15 members of the Michiana Ice Carvers Association who braved near-blizzard conditions Feb. 3 to carve 24,000 pounds of ice into works of art that lined Front and Commercial streets downtown in the winter arts festival hosted by Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.
Bud Lies of LaPorte, Ind., placed second in the competition with his sculpture Life featuring a female ice skater.
A pheasant flying out of reeds sculpted by Greg Beachey of New Paris, Ind., placed third.
Kinetic sculptor John Mishler of Goshen, Ind., judged the 10 competition pieces that were awarded $600 for first, $400 for second and $200 for third.
Corporate sponsors included Dowsett Chiropractic Health Center, Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union, First National Bank, Harding's Friendly Market, Kemner-Iott Agency of Cass County, Lyons Industries, McLauchlin-Clark Funeral Home and Michigan Pizza Hut.
While a winter advisory meant attendance was down, the wind chill didn't deter ladies who came out at 7 a.m. in their jammies to enjoy the Winter Hibernation and Pajama Sale at The Marshall Shoppe.
Six specialty shops participated in the fourth annual hibernation sale, which gave festivalgoers a spot to warm up inside.
Near-blizzard conditions outside forced the cancellation of the children's snow sculpture workshop at Beckwith Park, however, the ice art competition, which allowed families to prepare their entries at home, went on as planned outside The Wren's Nest.
"Families that braved the wintry conditions were able to view some of the best ice sculptures we've ever seen," Vickie Phillipson, Chamber program director, said Sunday. "The winter arts festival featured everything from the pterodactyl to a giant three-block wasp, a scorpion, a butterfly, a dragonfly, a giraffe and even intricate hummingbirds.
"In addition to the most intricate sculptures we've ever seen," Phillipson added, "15 was the most ice sculptors, so they were able to spend more time on each of their carvings. Because of that, they were able to apply some special techniques to even the street carvings done before the competition."
In some cases, festival-goers were able to view carvers using buckets of water, irons and torches to create three-dimensional limbs, such as those on the female skater produced by Bud Lies or the wings of the dragonfly produced by Casey Hochstetter of Elkhart, Ind. Hochstetter and Thistlethwaite teamed up on the scorpion sponsored by Harding's Friendly Market.
"While attendance was understandably down," Phillipson said, "we were pleasantly surprised to see the number of families who attended the event from southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana. Three hundred people cast ballots in the professional chili cookoff from as far away as Chelsea, Mich., Oak Park, Ill., and Middlebury, Ind., and up to 15 communities in between."
Beeson Street Bar and Grill took back its 2005 chili title, with the Eagles coming in second, trailing by only 27 votes.
This winter's biggest blast forced the closure at 4 p.m. of Zeke's, one of the five host sites of the chili cookoff.
Across the street, Vincent J. Jewelers, which planned to host a Midnight Madness sale, closed at 5 p.m.
At least three other downtown shops closed during the afternoon as weather conditions worsened. Visibility was reduced to about one block even in the central business district.
It was a long, cold day for the volunteers, who started at 6 a.m., Phillipson said.
"It was truly amazing to see where some of these folks had come in from considering how bad it was," she said. "It's definitely a testament to the type of festival we've been able to achieve in the last 11 years."