January 8, 2008
Downtown ice carving festival is a family affair
Notwithstanding Monday's tornado, I think it's safe to say that nobody in Racine is paying more attention to the weather than Mary Osterman, organizer of this weekend's downtown ice sculpture festival.
Having been "global-warming-ed" out of last year's festival (Think Wizard of Oz: "I'm melting, I'm melting!"), Osterman is nervously watching the forecast. And, despite Tuesday's mid-50s, the weatherman is predicting a great weekend for Downtown Racine Carves Its Niche.
The forecast for Saturday, Jan. 12, is "Partly sunny, highs in the upper 20s," perfect weather for the outdoor ice sculptors Mary and downtown merchants have attracted.
This year's festival is something of a family affair -- almost a soap opera, even.
The group of ten carvers has been rounded up by Andy Haas Schneider, a Waterford graphic designer who has a family much more talented -- at least in terms of ice carving -- than yours or mine.
"We are a close group of friends and family who enjoy a bit of friendly competition. In the end, we all end up better carvers by sharing tricks, tools, techniques (and a bottle of Advil).
"Eight of us carved in Green Bay last year, and we had a blast! Maybe next year I can get the whole family signed up for Racine '09," Andy told us. She and her husband have three children.
We'll let Andy introduce you to the other carvers, after the break:
"Dick Emmerich is a friend of the family who works with my brother John in Waukesha; he's a metallurgical engineer from Jefferson.
"My brother John Haas lives in Pewaukee and works in management at MetalTek in Waukesha. He got me into carving six or seven years ago.
"Joe Haas, our nephew is from Oconomowoc, a VP for a legal placement service in Milwaukee. He really thinks outside the box when carving.
"Bob Langenhohl is an engineer in Waukesha and a shirt-tale relative of some sort: He's is the son of my dad's cousin's wife's sister. No lie!
"Sarah Lephardt is my niece, Joe's cousin; another engineer: HVAC for Johnson Controls in Madison.
"Scott Johnson is her friend, also from Madison.
"Emily Lechtenberg is my niece, Sarah's sister. She is in graduate school at UWM.
"Her husband Bob Lechtenberg is another engineer. Bob's father, Mike, is also carving. He's yet another engineer."
If you haven't figured it out yet, Andy's family is large: there were 10 kids (she's the baby of the family). The eight who carve participated in Green Bay's ice festival last year "and it was a hoot. We get a bit competitive among us, but that makes it fun. It won't take long Saturday for the good-spirited trash-talking to start. Usually one of the older ones sends a friendly spectator down to where I am and asks if I'm carving a penguin or the Pillsbury Doughboy -- or will tell me that the sculpture down the block is much better than mine.
"It never takes me long to ask what the carver looks like; I'm so on to them!"
The group has decades of carving experience, and all carve three to eight times a season. "They are my inspiration and often my muses (little do they know)," Andy says. "The carving season is pretty short -- mid-December through mid-February -- and most of us carve as much as we can, nearly every weekend. Some are competitions and some exhibitions.
"Racine allows only hand tools (chisels and chippers and scrapers), but at others we are allowed to use chainsaws, grinders, propane, Dremels and any other tools we can think of to make the ice into something beautiful. We've all had our ice mishaps (breakage, melting) and the art is fleeting, but it is sure a fun way to pass the winter and spend a few hours in the outdoors meeting new people and having fun on a weekend in Wisconsin."
Saturday's festival will begin at 10 a.m. and end about 3 p.m. The ice sculptures will remain on display downtown until Mother Nature melts them away.
The stores participating in the festival -- i.e., those who helped pay for the 300-lb. blocks of ice and the sculptors' honorarium -- are: Northern Lights Gallery, Funky Hannah's Beads, Main Street General Store, Copacetic, Sheepish, Martha Merrell's Bookstore, Monfort's Fine Art Gallery, Ivanhoe Pub & Eatery, Inside-Out, Seams Unlimited, EYE OpenerZ, Molly MaGruder, Dover Flag & Map, Art Metals Studio, Avenue Gallery & Frame Shop and Moxie Child. Look outside their shops for the sculptors.