IceFest: DiMartino family carves out a living
During the late 1960s, Art and Joan DiMartino learned that a man in their local area was selling off some ice equipment. The couple purchased it, moved it into their garage and basement, and started making and selling ice.
Though Art worked a full-time job and overtime hours, the business began to take off in their tight-knit, Italian community in Jeannette, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. As his sons grew, so did the business, and the young men helped out with work after school. Eventually, Art’s son Ernie DiMartino took over the business and its operation became his full-time job. By 1988, DiMartino Ice was operating from its current facility, a revamped service station with a two-bay garage and office.
Ernie’s nephew Jared DiMartino, said that is when the business experienced rapid growth, and Ernie needed to make some serious business decisions. He was doing well with commercial sales of cubed and blocked ice, but sales would fall off during winter, as those months were cold and the product was not in demand.
“That’s when he realized that to stay in business in Pennsylvania and make this a full time, year-round job, he was going to have to do something else in the winter,” Jared DiMartino said.
Ernie had a neighbor who was a chef and “carved a little ice,” Jared said. “He told him, ‘I can give you a job if you teach me how to carve ice. That was the infancy of ice carving as our profession.”
Today, DiMartino Ice continues to sell packaged and dry ice, but November through February, the company, under the ownership of brothers Ernie and Don DiMartino, travels performing live at multi-day ice carving events.
The DiMartino team will use more than 30 tons of ice to create hundreds of sculptures at IceFest in Chambersburg, Pa., Thursday, Jan. 30 through Sunday, Feb. 2. The festival will kick off with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony and include live carvings, a double-wide ice slide, the Snowfall Ball, a chili and barbeque cook-off, the IceFest Beer Garden, live glass-blowing demonstrations, Icing on the Cake decorating contest, the Run Your Ice Off 5K and more.
A full schedule of events is available at www.icefestpa.com. The event serves as a fundraiser for three Chambersburg organizations – Chambersburg Council for the Arts, Downtown Business Council of Chambersburg and Downtown Chambersburg Inc.
Jared DiMartino, 34, will be among the team of ten ice carvers and apprentices arriving in Chambersburg on Tuesday prior to the festival. Ice will arrive in multiple loads on different days, depending on the weather.
“We will kind of just go to work, from sun up until sundown sometimes,” he said. “We have 98 sculptures we’ve carved here in the shop that we’ll set up in front of local businesses. Then there will be 190 that we’ll do onsite.”
The carvers will use power tools including chainsaws and die grinders along with hand saws and chisels to carve sculptures from about 32.5 tons of ice or the equivalent of 11,500 gallons of water.
“Chambersburg is one of the biggest festivals that we do,” DiMartino said. “It’s one of the biggest of the season. It’s always fun for us to be able to do the big, big stuff.”
A crowd favorite is always a giant ice slide on which participants can sit and ride down.
“The slide is always a huge crowd pleaser anywhere we go,” DiMartino said.
It is an especially big hit in Chambersburg, though, where lines to ride it became so long in past years that the DiMartinos designed a two-lane expanded version to accommodate the crowds.
Many of the sculptures at the event are interactive in that they can be sat upon, looked through or otherwise “used” by festival-goers. Businesses that sponsor sculptures often request an object related to their line of work. For example, a bank might request a dollar sign or a florist might request a flower-themed piece.
“We do some walls, some 3-D interactive things, like tractors that people can sit on. Last year, we built a big jet that had wings coming out, 70 inches wide,” DiMartino said. “We like to experiment.”
DiMartino said ice carving is a blend of construction, science and art.
“Part of the work is trying to line things up and design around the seams,” he said. “You’ll have to add additional support here or not cut out negative space there. That part is more analytical than art.”
With methods that are “tried and true,” DiMartino said, “I personally enjoy doing highly detailed work, stuff that has a lot of artistic elements to it.”
Over the years, the DiMartinos and their artwork have landed in countless photo albums across multiple communities.
“People are photographing your work, keeping it as memories, posting it on social media. It creates memories,” he said.
Some ice carvers come from a culinary background. Chefs are exposed to ice carving as part of their training and then choose to pursue it over cooking, DiMartino said. He was lucky enough to grow up in a family where “this is just what we do.”
“It’s one of those things where I just grew up with it so it doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal. It’s like any other career,” he said. “You just become used to it until you see people’s reactions to the work that you do. That brings you back to realize, ‘Oh. This is something special that people don’t see every day. It’s something that they don’t easily forget.’”
Top photo: Jared DiMartino began carving ice for his family business when he was just 14 years old. Today, he enjoys the challenge of creating ice sculptures that require precision and detail. (Submitted photo)