Manayunk’s arctic extravaganza

Just as the snow and ice began to melt in Philadelphia, thousands of additional pounds of ice made their way to the streets of Manayunk for the first annual ‘Manayunk on Ice’ festival.

The opening ceremony on Friday night drew hundreds across the frozen Manayunk canal onto Venice Island to see a rare spectacle – a bonfire made of ice.

Fear No Ice, a Philadelphia-based company specializing in “performance ice sculpting,” erected a 10-foot-tall chimney made of ice bricks and stuffed with wood.

Immediately after the fire was lit, red-hot flames rose nearly 40 feet into the sky, visible for miles.

Peter Slavin of Fear No Ice first pitched the concept of a winter ice festival to the Manayunk Development Corporation more than a year ago. He convinced the board that a festival would be “a good way to bring people out of their winter blues and get them out in the elements.”

Using his connections to the small world of ice sculpting, Slavin reached out to champion ice carvers and National Ice Carving Association (NICA) judges to participate in several competitions. He and his company provided all of the ice blocks, which weighed 200 to 300 pounds each.

On Saturday, more than 30 ice sculptures stood out front of storefronts on Main Street. Local merchants had commissioned sculptures from Fear No Ice.

A frozen bread-and-cheese sculpture stood outside of a grocery store. A woman’s face slowly melted outside of a salon; a jeweler showcased an icy ring; and of course, several frosty beer and wine statues represented Manayunk’s well-stocked bar scene. 

On Saturday, people voted on their favorite sculptures and watched as professional carvers competed on the subject of “True Love” in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Roger Wing, a graduate of the Academy of the Arts and owner of a sculpting business in Fishtown, explained how he chose his statue, which depicted himself washing dishes.

“It’s one for the ladies,” Wing said. “I wanted to do the goddess of love. I wanted to do sexy, curvaceous, scantily clad women, and I realized that this is Valentine’s weekend, and it’s not about me. So I thought, what would my wife most like to see? Me, doing the dishes.”

Although he has traveled internationally to compete in ice carving, Wing says he enjoyed exhibiting in Philadelphia.

“It’s great to play for the home crowd,” he says.

Rob Capone owns a commercial ice sculpture business at Sherman Mills in East Falls, but this was his first time competing. He says that competitive ice carvers form a small community, and that most of his competitors are his friends and mentors. In the beginning of his career as a competitive ice sculptor, he says he’s grateful to “start with friends.” He adds that it was “great to meet other people in the industry and see other techniques.”

The differences among the carvers’ different methods became clear as they worked side by side.

Roger Wing sawed, chiseled and drilled on a clay model. His free hand technique was very different from Art Hong Pong, from Washington, D.C.  Pong laid a sketch over his ice brick and traced the figure with his tools. Some of the drill bits he used were his homemade creations.

By mid-afternoon, the official NICA judges announced their winners and the people’s choice award, which was soon overshadowed by a significant announcement. Pong got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Andrea, in front of the crowd.  

Pong’s father, a famous ice sculptor himself, came to Manayunk from Thailand to compete in Sunday’s Master Carver Competition.

The warm weather was a challenge for carvers to fuse together two pieces of ice, but the biggest issue was the wind. One sculpture was blown over, and a few pieces broke off as the day wore on.

As the sun began to set, Fear No Ice’s Peter Slavin and Kevin Roscoe, gave an extreme carving demonstration. Wearing all white clothing and face paint, they blasted electronic music and danced while carving a heart out of 1,700 pounds of ice.

Without speaking, in the miming style of the Blue Man Group, they chucked blocks of ice and power tools around stage. As chainsaws whirled ,they sprayed the audience with bits of shaved ice and threw snowballs over their shoulders.

Donna Galvin joked that, after this spectacle, snowmen will no longer be enough entertainment for her two young sons on a snow day. “The bar has been raised,” she said.

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