Ice Festival’s main attractions take shape

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT Dean DeMarais, of Dallas, chisels the edge of a large slab of ice Tuesday morning near Riverfront Park in Niles.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
Dean DeMarais, of Dallas, chisels the edge of a large slab of ice Tuesday morning near Riverfront Park in Niles.

More than 27 tons of ice arrived by the truckload Tuesday morning in a parking lot near Riverfront Park.

The large slabs of frozen water were unloaded on pallets as about a half dozen professional ice carvers readied their chainsaws and grinders for the task at hand.

Over the next several days all that ice will be hand carved into more than 100 sculptures for this weekend’s Hunter Ice Festival in downtown Niles.

One of the six carvers, Niles’ own Danny Bloss, said he couldn’t help but be excited for one of his favorite times of the year.

“We have 160 blocks of ice for the festival and with only a handful of carvers you need to start early to get ready for the event,” said Bloss, a Notre Dame employee who considers ice carving a hobby. “It (the Hunter Ice Festival) is one of the best around here. People love it. There’s been times that it was so cold here and it still looked like it was a parade there were so many people here.”

Bloss has been carving ice for 10 years, including nine at the Hunter Ice Festival. Bloss said he plans to work about a dozen festivals this year.

“It’s a lot of fun. You get the kids and the adults talking to you about the sculptures and enjoying what you’ve done,” he said. “We’re just doing it for the people and the fun of doing it.”

Only Dean DeMarais, of Dallas, is carving his second Hunter Ice Festival but has been doing it professionally for 26 years. He started out as a culinary student with an extensive background in art.

“One day in class we did ice carving and I never set foot in a kitchen after that,” he said. “That was it for me.

“I never liked painting and I enjoyed a little bit of sketch work. What truly makes the difference with sculpting is that it’s hands on. Once you make a mistake 90 percent of the time you have to start over — it’s not like you can slap another layer over or erase what you messed up on. The speed of the ice is what’s most enjoyable. It’s a fairly fast medium but it’s fun.”

DeMarais described himself as an ice carving “hired gun,” working at events all over, but mainly sticking to corporate events in Dallas.

He said he enjoys working at festivals like the Hunter Ice Festival because it affords him the opportunity to be creative.

This year, he and the rest of the carvers will be working within the festival’s fantasy theme.

“We will have a lot of castles, dragons and fairies and some on the more demented side like skulls and crossbones in there with gargoyles,” he said. “There should be some 6-to-7-foot dragons and there may be an 8-to-9-foot fairy.”

DeMarais said a lot of what they do depends on the weather. He said the forecast is favorable for high- quality designs.

“We might be able to do some more detailed, smaller designs because we know it will last,” he said.