Sculptors race against the clock on little sleep and lots of ice

From far up the Manayunk hills this weekend, Main Street sounded like a construction zone.

The electric roar of chainsaws filled the air as the equipment’s metal teeth gnawed into blocks of ice, spraying frozen mist all over the artists and groups of onlookers. It was all part of the 2012 Manayunk on Ice festival. 

On Saturday, 14 artists carved ice under tents along Main Street to be judged by National Ice Carving Association representatives. They sported the garb and hand tools of a carpenter with hammers, chisels, knee pads and jumpsuits, along with an almost surgical assembly of power saws and chainsaws strewn on wooden operating tables. 

It took just one mistake to nearly derail Mark McKenzie’s sculpture. The South Ozone Park, New York-based artist said he cracked off a leg from his butterfly-shaped carving in his haste to finish it within the three-hour time limit. Instead, he hurried to fashion another leg by carving a cigar-shaped shank of ice with a flat-headed chisel that he melded to the rest of the butterfly.

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“We didn’t have enough time to finish in just three hours,” McKenzie said in the moments after the completion ended at 3 p.m. 

Philadelphia Canoe Club member Dave Munson entered the competition for the first time, and wore an orange life jacket and paddling gear to get noticed. Prior to the competition, Munson said he only carved ice in his leisure with frozen blocks he found on the Schuylkill River and worked on the Philadelphia Canoe Club’s riverfront lawn in East Falls. He carved the club’s logo with three canoes to represent the white water, flat water and ocean paddling that it offers for Saturday’s competition. 

“When I work on ice, sometimes it takes days. So to do it all in just three hours was hectic,” Munson said. In fact, he misspelled ‘Philadelphia’ on the sculpture, Munson said he might have overlooked his typographical error if he hadn’t text messaged the photo to his wife – who alerted him of the mistake. So Munson cleared out the letter and re-carved it. 

In a short time, Munson said being around the other artists on Friday night for the opening bonfire and carving ceremony showed him a few tricks that he put to use in time for Saturday. He stayed up on Saturday night and hammered about 200 drywall nails through a piece of plywood to build an ice grate, which carvers use to quickly move and smooth large sections of ice.

“These go for about $200, and I made mine for about $3,” Munson said. “I got a full forty minutes of sleep last night, so I feel nice and refreshed.”

Next to Munson, local artist Don Lowing carved a phoenix sculpture that later won second place overall. 

Saturday concluded with a Philadelphia-centric ice carving performance by Peter Slavin, who organized the inaugural Manayunk on Ice event with the Manayunk Development Corporation in 2011 and this year’s event as well.

West Philadelphia-based artist Roger Wing said the two days of competition were a treat, because it gave him a chance to watch the seven artists create ice sculptures side by side at the Master Carvers competition on Sunday. Along with Wing, spectators braved biting winds and 20-degree temperatures to observe the competition from bleachers in the Levering Street lot off Main Street. In the end, Vail, Colo. artist Scott Rella won the People’s Choice contest for his sculpture of a cat gazing into a fishbowl.

“I’ve been carving ice since 1997, and I never see any of it because I’m too busy running around with my own ice,” said Wing, who received a bronze medal ranking on Saturday for his ice statue—a women figure. Wing had struggled to fit the rainbow-shaped hair piece on the sculpture’s head in the final seconds of the competition. 

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