Ligonier Ice Fest continues to warm hearts of attendees

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Ernie DiMartino was a teenager, he was refused membership in the school art club because the teacher thought he didn't have enough talent to be an artist. Now the Jeannette man makes his living as an award-winning ice sculptor, carving blocks of ice into everything from swans and eagles to 36-foot ice slides and horses pulling carriages.

DiMartino, the president of DiMartino Ice Co. in Jeannette, will demonstrate his skills this weekend during the Ligonier Ice Fest, which he founded 22 years ago to bring the beauty and spectacle of ice carving to Western Pennsylvania. “Since then, it's grown, Ligonier has grown, and other communities have followed suit,” he says.

The 50 ice sculptures on display in and around the Diamond will be made by DiMartino and four other carvers from DiMartino Ice. About half the sculptures will be made at the ice house before the festival, while the rest are carved on site. Each sculpture is sponsored by a business, individual or nonprofit. Many of the designs on display this weekend were chosen to pay tribute to DiMartino's father, who founded the business in 1968.

“We're trying to honor his memory,” DiMartino says. “Ligonier was his absolute favorite place to be. He was a serious man, but when he was in Ligonier, he was all smiles.”

Each sculpture takes about an hour per block to carve. The bulk of the work is done with a chainsaw, and details are added with router bits, chisels and other small tools.

During the festival, horse-and-buggy rides will be offered for a small fee, weather permitting. Local stores will have indoor sidewalk sales, and restaurants will be open. On Saturday at 11 a.m. a spaghetti dinner will be offered in the Town Hall community room, and kettle corn will be available throughout the weekend.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, kids 10 and under can participate in a free story and craft hour at the library. Later that afternoon, adults 21 or older can escape the cold for a few hours during the Winter Chill Chaser from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Ligonier Theater. The event features a wine tasting with homemade soups, bread and live music. “They had a blast last year,” says Cathy Rhodes, the theater's executive director. “They didn't want to leave!”

The wine is made by Royal Welsh Winery. This year's soup choices will be Hungarian goulash, potato soup and chicken noodle vegetable soup. The Bricks, an acoustic '70s-rock band, will perform. Admission for the Chill Chaser is $20. Reservations are suggested; call the theater at 724-238-6514.

Two free concerts will take place during the festival. Saturday's concert will feature the Glass City Swing Band at 2 p.m. in the Town Hall Auditorium. On Sunday, Swing City will perform in the same space at 12:30 p.m.

Sunday's highlight is the new Speed Carving Contest in which four of DiMartino's carvers will compete to create the crowd's favorite sculpture in less than 30 minutes. The winner will be determined by popular vote.

Holly Mowrey, director of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 people attend the event every year.

“It's a nice family event,” Mowrey says. “It's something fun to do at the end of January.”

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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