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Ice carving on the last Saturday in January at the Community Center. Video by Swikar Patel.

Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Visitors watch Ryan Eckert as he uses a blow torch to polish the ice on his penguin on skis outside the Community Center, one of several locations for ice-carving demonstrations.
Chilly fun found at Winterval 2013

Ice sculptures amaze

Families gather to celebrate the wonder of winter

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Ryan Eckert carves a penguin on skis out of a block of ice Saturday at the Community Center during the Winterval celebration.

– Ella Funk is planning ahead: When she gets married, she wants an ice sculpture there, probably of a wedding cake.

Ella is 5 years old.

She was one of about a dozen children gathered around Jim Houser in the courtyard by the Allen County Public Library early Saturday afternoon. He carved an ice sculpture as part of Winterval 2013, the winter festival that took place at several downtown locations.

Saturday marked Fort Wayne’s second Winterval, said Chuck Reddinger, who helped organize the event for Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. Last year drew a crowd of 2,000 or 3,000 people, he said, and he hoped to top that.

“Hopefully the weather will cooperate and make it pleasant for people to come downtown,” he said.

Saturday afternoon saw light snow with temperatures in the 20s. The sky was slightly gray, which made it ideal weather for ice carving, said Rich Busfield, of Design Collaborative, one of Winterval’s sponsors. He helped Houser and the other carvers prepare for their demonstrations. Ice carving was conducted at several downtown locations.

Before Houser began to sculpt, his medium was nothing more than three 300-pound blocks of ice sectioned off by some portable silver gates. As he prepared to sculpt, he carted out his tools, similar to the tools of a clay or stone sculptor, but on a slightly heavier-duty scale. His primary tool, used to shave off large chunks of ice, was a chain saw. Instead of sandpaper, he used a board covered in nails. By scraping the board against the ice, he made the surface smooth. For precision work, he used a cone-shaped dremel. For glue, he used water to fuse two pieces of ice together.

As Ella and other children pressed their faces into and grasped the bars of the portable gates, which kept viewers at a safe distance from the power tools, sheets of ice flakes sprayed them as Houser cut into the blocks. It looked like snow flying out the end of a plow, and kids giggled as the soft spray hit their faces.

First, Houser used a long ruler to measure one of the large blocks, and he scoured the medium into thirds. He turned one of the blocks into a large chair with ornate scroll work, asking the audience if his chair should be rounded at the top or if it should come to two points.

“Points!” the viewers responded unanimously.

He placed an owl holding a book on the chair. To cut the owl, he used water to “glue” a printed image of the design. He used the dremel to trace the owl’s outline – his “hand” feathers grasping the book, his eyes and glasses, his beak and feet. Once the design was set, Houser used the chain saw for the larger cuts, bringing the shape of the owl out from the shape of the block.

Ella and her family made a day out of Winterval. They started at the ice sculpture at the library and had plans to follow it with lunch downtown, said Brigid Funk, Ella’s mother, of Fort Wayne. They planned to wrap up the day with a carriage ride.

Emily Compton of Churubusco attended Winterval with her nieces. The girls visited from Coldwater, Mich., and Compton was happy to find a fun activity for them, she said. After watching Houser carve, the girls had plans to go ice skating and maybe take a carriage ride.

“It’s more fun to be outside when there’s things to do outside,” Compton said.