January 10, 2009

Perfect weather for ice carving, and trash talking

Joe Haas creates Lightning McQueen, his 3-year-old son's favorite

The snow was falling this morning. So was the temperature. Cars were slip-sliding down Main Street.

A perfect day for ice-carving!

And so, Racine Carves Its Niche took place along Main and Sixth Streets, with a dozen ice-carvers plying their hand tools on 300-pound blocks of ice brought in just for their pleasure.

The carvers -- an extended family of brothers, sisters, boyfriends, father-in-law -- I lost track after a while -- started chipping away at their blocks about 10 a.m., reveling in the cold that drove the rest of us into shelter.

By noon, the blocks were taking shape: What onlookers first took to be a dolphin, began looking more like the shark Andy Haas Schneider had in mind. As she carved the teeth, a little girl said, "My daddy's a dentist. He'd say they all have cavities!"

Art Rice's block was turning into a dragon, Bob Lechtenberg's into a swordfish, Joe Winters' into a toy soldier, or maybe a nutcracker; he wasn't too sure either. What I thought was a chicken, began looking more like a cardinal under the hands of Noreen Haas-Lephardt. Paul Enders obviously was carving a dog.

Mike Lechtenberg was having trouble with his Angel's wings -- one of them had a crack and he was having to "weld" it together.

Joe Haas, sprawled out on the sidewalk, was having no problem with his carving. What I mistook for a Porsche -- all good-looking sports cars are Porsches -- he quickly informed me was actually Lightning McQueen -- the favorite Disney character of his three-year-old son, JJ. It must be a generational thing; I never heard of Lightning. (Maybe he has a Porsche engine?)

Sarah Lephardt works on her snowman's eyes

Sarah Lephardt's was another recognizable sculpture: a snowman with branch arms "taken from down the street, don't turn me in," she said conspiratorally. While I watched, she was digging out eye sockets, and planning a trip to the Subway sandwich shop to beg a couple of olives for eyes. Or maybe strawberries?

Down the street, Dick Emmerich was carving a woman. "Anyone in particular," I asked. "Well, it depends," he said, with a sly smile. "If the butt turns out big, then it's Andy. If it's small, then it's John." Ah, yes, trash talk; I'd forgotten how much this crew likes to rag on each other. "Be sure to print that 'big butt' part," Emmerich said, adding that John was across the street, probably carving a penguin. "He always does penguins, even when he doesn't want to. Everything he does looks like a penguin," he said.

Joe Winters works on his toy soldier. Or will it be a Nutcracker?

Ah, but not this time; John Haas actually was carving a Liberty Bell. Andy knew that; when I stopped by her carving station she suggested I ask her brother John if he was making a Taco Bell. John just laughed, as big brothers do.

And so it went, for about four hours. The jokes and digs were telegraphed back and forth, as the carvers polished their work with scrapers and chisels, and an occasional blast of flame to melt this or that. One thing was certain, the weather was perfect, and so is the forecast: zero or below. Recently, they all had carved at Candy Cane Lane in Milwaukee -- only to have their work washed away the next day by rain.

This time, it looks as though the sculptures will last a while. Be sure to visit them: Along Main Street, on both sides of Monument Square and on Sixth Street. Before the next thaw -- June, probably.
Dick Emmerich tries to decide which relative he's carving...

John Haas carves Liberty Bell as Austin, 5, and Eli Imhoff, 1, watch

Andy Haas Schneider's shark emerges under
the watchful eyes of Isabelle and and William Buhler


  1. Thank you Pete for the awesome photos and coverage of the ice carving event this year. You are very generous with sharing your talents. The sculptures are still in place. We hope everyone can come back down to enjoy them!

  2. Great carvers, Great event!