Extreme ice battles cater to a Cotton St. crowd

“Manayunk On Ice” closed late yesterday afternoon with a carnivalesque scene on Cotton Street. For over four hours, professional ice sculptors competed head to head in 30-minute single-elimination rounds. The final two split a $2,000 prize sponsored by the Manayunk Development Corporation.

In the last heat before the semi-finals, kids in neon coats ran through the crowd towards a table offering candy and hot chocolate. Speakers blasted the song “Ice, Ice Baby,” and adults danced with toddlers.

On a stage constructed next to JD McGillicuddy’s, artisans Rob LoFurno and Erik Cantine took a break from working with 200-lb ice blocks and cut loose for the crowd. At the end of their half-hour rivalry, applause would determine which artist advanced. LoFurno, from Glen Mills, threw unwrapped cookies into the crowd. Maryland’s Cantine alternated between pumping fire from a torch in his left hand and spraying a fire extinguisher from his right. As the men turned back to finalize their sculptures, Peter Slavin of Fear No Ice reminded the audience what to consider as they voted.

Slavin, the emcee, began each round by giving the artists a theme. They then had four minutes to sketch a concept on ice or on paper before attempting to simultaneously execute their vision and garner crowd support.Speaking into a microphone, Slavin emphasized showmanship and technique.

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“How well did they use the ice?” he asked. “Is [the design] precise? Does it have proper proportions? Is it artistic? Does it stimulate you? Does it move you?”

Cantine wore a plastic fireman’s hat and moved more slowly than LoFurno, an older and shorter man. Slavin had assigned the Philadelphia 76ers logo to the duo, and for most of the round, Cantine’s block looked undeveloped. In the final minutes, he whisked around his ice tools, poured water on his sculpture to clear away shavings, and revealed a basketball with the team’s logo atop a pedestal. The crowd preferred his design to LoFurno’s player in a Sixers’ jersey.

Cantine told NewsWorks that his height worked against him even though he won. At 6’4″, he prefers working with larger surfaces than the event allowed. “It’s a lot of pulling and muscle work with the single block sculptures,” he said, indicating that his lower back hurt. 

When asked what he was going to do to recover before the semis, Cantine pointed to McGillicuddy’s. “I’m going to go in there.”

Alicia Dietzmann, Events Coordinator for the Manayunk Development Corporation, said she was thrilled with the size of the afternoon crowds. Not having attended the prior two “Manayunk On Ice” festivals, Dietzmann said Friday night’s bonfire was impressive, but the extreme carving competition was the highlight of her weekend. “It’s more laid back and funny,” she said. As she spoke, the first semifinal contestant, Philadelphia’s Don Lowing, took to the stage and started dancing and posing.

Slavin assigned a Liberty Bell theme to Lowing and Kevin Roscoe of Seattle. A crowd again assembled, which Slavin engaged by answering sculpting questions and talking about ice tools as the artists carved.After Lowing narrowly advanced, Erik Cantine fell and Chicago’s Dan Rebholz moved forward. As finalists, Lowing and Rebholz shared the $2,000 prize.

Like many members of the semi-final crowds, Eileen Lake of Wyndmoor and Caitlin Rothwell of Bala Cynwyd missed this year’s bonfire event on Friday night. Both attended the first “Manayunk On Ice” festival two years ago and remembered how much they enjoyed watching the sculptors rapidly work. Lake returned, she said, because “Manyunk On Ice” is such “a special event in the winter.”

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