The highlight of February’s Winterfest in Perrysburg will be the U.S. National Ice Carving Championship, but Chad Hartson, who owns one of the nation’s largest ice-sculpting companies — Ice Creations in Napoleon — and is himself a former world champion, won’t be a contender. “The National Ice Carving Association (NICA) sanctions the event,” explains Hartson. “Since I’m president of its board and helping organize the championship, I can’t be competing too.”
A veteran of more than 100 ice-sculpting contests, Hartson led a team that carved seven full-sized cars — ranging from a 1957 Chevy to a 2017 Lamborghini — out of ice for Detroit’s 2016 International Auto Show. At Winterfest, not only will he be demonstrating his talents, but his company also is supplying the blocks of ice for the U.S. Nationals. “It’s the qualifying event for the cultural side of the Winter Olympics and will bring top ice sculptors to Perrysburg,” says Hartson.
Like many professional ice sculptors, Hartson was introduced to carving in culinary school. As a teenager, he worked in a restaurant in his hometown of Wauseon and later enrolled in the University of Akron’s culinary arts program with the goal of becoming a chef. The curriculum included learning to carve fruits and vegetables into decorative shapes, but Hartson further honed his skills by studying sculpture at the university.
“I was able to take sculpture classes at the same time as I was getting culinary training,” he says. “Those classes led me into other art forms like ice, sand, and salt, and they helped me to refine what I do.” After culinary school, Hartson shifted from chef to sculptor and started Ice Creations in 1998. Today, he appears in the Food Network’s food art competitions, and his company produces everything from bagged ice cubes to drink luges to elegant ice centerpieces with state-of the-art computerized equipment.
When Hartson began his business, ice sculptures were a luxury item only seen at high-end weddings and country club parties. Recent advances in tools and technology have dramatically reduced the man-hours needed to complete an ice sculpture, making them more affordable and sophisticated. “Twenty years ago,” notes Hartson, “we didn’t have the power tools, specialty bits, or die grinders that have resulted in today’s much more detailed and elaborate structures.” As ice sculptures increased in popularity, so did seasonal festivals where artful carvings helped to chase away the winter blues. “Ice sculpting events are a good fit for towns like Perrysburg that are lively during winter,” says Hartson. “They get people out of the house, bring them downtown, and help them be more active.”
According to chairperson Kati McDougle, Winterfest 2017 will feature about 200 different ice sculptures that are either created during the competition or commissioned by Perrysburg businesses and organizations. The three-day event also includes wine and beer tastings, unique edibles from local restaurants, and an entertaining children’s area complete with costumed superheroes. “At Winterfest,” says McDougle, “people can do some shopping, enjoy all the activities, and watch ice sculptors bring their beautiful carvings to life.”