A Festival of Carved Ice Sculptures - Franklin on Ice
A Winter Festival
In the gray of a northwest Pennsylvania winter somewhere between the post-holiday lethargy and the anticipation of spring, one town has found a way to beat the winter blues.
Franklin on Ice is an annual ice carving festival where sculptors turn blocks of ice into frozen statuaries.
Depending on the weather, this event can draw up to 4000 attendees anxious to see unique artisans at work.
Upon entering Fountain Park where the main event is held, carved sculptures (clowns, disco dancers, sea animals, musical instruments, people, and many more) line the sidewalks each with its own local sponsor. Unique and fascinating, every carving is a testament to its architect.
DiMartino Ice Company - a "Group of Pros"
The ice sculptures are created by DiMartino Ice, a company from Jeanette Pennsylvania whose roots are in packaged ice. Founded in 1968 by Art DiMartino, the ice company is now owned by son, Ernie. Ernie, whose high school art teacher told him he had "no artistic ability" introduced ice sculptures to the business 10 - 15 years ago. He learned the skill in the late 1980s from a chef friend, John McIntosh, who currently resides in Franklin.
The ideas for the sculptures, according to DiMartino, come from "anywhere". "Anywhere" includes brainstorming sessions among company sculptors, ideas from customers and exchanges of ideas with other artists in the field. Sometimes ideas are quite by surprize such as what DiMartino calls "interactive sculptures." The company noticed that people like sculptures they can interact with, sit on, pose for a picture on. With this in mind, DiMartino is working on its next interactive scultpure - an ice sliding board.
The company still produces packaged ice and creates their own ice blocks utilizing a Clinebell ice block maker. "We pride ourselves in making all of our ice perfectly clear," says DiMartino who notes there is a certain amount of care to get such clarity. Each block weighs 265 pounds and, according to DiMartino, is pure enough to eat.
DiMartino Ice, according to Ronnie Beith, Events & Marketing Coordinator for the City of Franklin, "...are a great group of pros who give 100% to the success of the event."
History of the Event
According to Beith, "The original event was a sanctioned Nation Ice Competition Association (NICA) event sponsored by the former Franklin Club." The club's former manager and Randy Rupert (chef and pro ice carver) managed the event in 1996. "The NICA sanctioned event was huge," said Beith, "and brought in carvers from across the nation." Rupert had gained notoriety after he was hired by the directors of the movie Groundhog Day to sculpt the carvings used in the movie. In 1998, the Franklin Fine Arts Council (FFAC) took over the ice sculpting event now known as "Franklin on Ice".
Ice Carving Competition
A highlight of the event is the timed carving competition. Five carvers are arranged at different ice blocks throughout the park and the timed competition begins. We chose to watch one sculptor as he completed an ornate fish. Rosy cheeks and numb toes could not deter us from watching our carver work his magic. I was surprised to find out he was only 17 years old. But the guys from DiMartino Ice make it look easy utilizing tools such as chain and hand saws, blow torches and chisels.
This year, the 2013 timed carving competition winner was Joe DiMartino with his carving of a seahorse.
And There is More...
Franklin on Ice is surely worth the trip. It's a visual treat for the eyes, but that's not all. According to Beith, "As the years have passed we have added a Chili Cook-Off and various forms of entertainment to the festival. The Barrow-Civic Theatre hosts performances on Friday evening and Saturday... The Franklin Retail Association and the City sponsor promotions such as Kool Kash Bingo, Indoor Sidewalk Sales and Valentine Specials."
And uptown Franklin is a delight. With the motto "Always Eventful", there is so much more to do and see. To warm ourselves we walked across the street to Daffin's Candies before making our way to DeBence's Antique Music World for a once-in-a-lifetime show of antique music machines and finally we stopped at Bossa Nova Cafe Roastery for hot chocolate and listened to a live band.
Sculptures by Night
A special encore treat of the event when the carving was over and daylight began to fade was returning to the park to see the sculptures lit up. Like a beautiful frozen garden, the park is almost surreal and whimsical. As I ran from statue to statue with a dying camera battery, I must admit, this was my favorite part of the day. The crowds had dissipated and the park was cold and aglow. I wanted to stay, but my ride was leaving. With my battery fading, I consoled myself with the thought that Franklin on Ice will return next year. It is an event, in a pleasant and historic town, that should not be missed!