Near perfect conditions for Hunter Ice Festival

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT  TOP: An ice sculptor works on creating the top portion of two peacocks Tuesday morning in Niles.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
TOP: An ice sculptor works on creating the top portion of two peacocks Tuesday morning in Niles.

The whir of chainsaws cutting through blocks of ice drowned out the sound of Main Street traffic in downtown Niles Tuesday morning.

A handful of professional ice sculptors dressed in heavy winter coats, hats and gloves were busy squaring off blocks of ice and making headway into turning several tons of frozen water into works of art in time for the start of the Hunter Ice Festival.

A few frozen peacocks had taken shape by mid-morning, pieces that will act as bookmarks for an ice castle planned to stand between 10- and 12-feet tall and weigh approximately 6,000 pounds.

“It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we’ll have a lot of beautiful sculptures out here,” said Aaric Kendall, a 21-year sculpting veteran from Illinois. “We hope a lot of people come out and see them.”

Fortunately for the carvers, a recent cold spell has created near perfect conditions for sculpting.

Longtime sculptor Burr Rasmussen said ideal temperatures are between 20 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It’s a little cold today, but it looks perfect all week,” said the San Antonio, Texas man.

Kendall and his business partner Shannon White spent most of last week creating nearly 100 sculptures that will be placed outside downtown businesses Friday night.

Kendall said they were crafted at his shop in Argenta, Illinois.

“We are blessed with cold weather this week, but we’ve learned over time that it is easier to do the logo pieces with the intricate writing and stuff in a controlled environment,” he said.

Some of the logo pieces, he said, include a large bass for Rusty Hooks Bait & Tackle and a chef holding a plate for The Nugget Bar & Grill.

The rest of the sculptures will be created this week in the carvers’ temporary open-air ice studio in a parking lot at the corner of Main and Front Streets.

This year’s theme is medieval, Kendall said, meaning several, but not all of the big sculptures will revolve around that theme. For instance, they plan on doing a castle and a knight on horseback, to name a few.

Sculptors will also work on interactive displays for children, including a ping pong table, miniature golf, cornhole, ski ball and a slide.

People wanting to see the carvers in action can visit them throughout the week or check out live carvings downtown Saturday and Sunday. The carvers will also do a competitive speed carving event Friday and Saturday evening at the Riverfront Park amphitheater.

The free event runs from Friday through Sunday.