From chef to ice carver

First Posted: 2/4/2015

LAKEVILLE — At his ice carving studio in Lakeville, Mark Crouthamel and his crew can make up to 20,000 blocks of ice per year.

This winter, once he finished carving for his Crystal Cabin Fever Festival in February, he has had approximately one week to prepare for the Clarks Summit Festival of Ice “Frozen Fairy Tales,” Feb. 13-16.

Crouthamel established Sculpted Ice Works, a full service ice event company, in 1999. He started ice carving as a chef decorated with degrees and took a one-day ice carving class while in culinary school, but that didn’t go without issues.

“My (ice) block broke and I said I’d never do it again,” he said.

Five years later, he was an executive chef at a banquet room at Ehrhardt’s restaurant, Hawley, and was the most qualified to carve ice.

“In the beginning, it was really basic stuff – hearts, some swans, Mother’s Day pieces – just for the holidays,” he said.

For a few years he dabbled in ice carving with his ice carving career taking shape from 1995 to 2000. Crouthamel works full time as a carver in the winter and full time in culinary during the summer with his other business, Buehler’s Idlewood Inn in Paupack.

“I like the medium,” he said of ice carving. “Even though it’s a temporary art, we work very fast on it because many times we have elements that limit our time and we have to finish before details melt. Even though we know it’s going to be viewed for a very short period of time and then it will go away, we still try to make each a masterpiece. It adds its own special value because it’s temporary. It’s so unique how ice sculptures ‘take the light.’

“Whereas, with any solid medium like wood, metal or stone, you can add lighting to highlight it and you’ll pick up shadows, but with different textures in ice, with the light or colored lights through it, it can really change a piece. It’s the textures in ice that allow you to really change the details. It’s also really fun to work with. You can cut and paste pieces together.”

This year’s ice festival will have interactive displays.

“Forty-nine pre-carved sculptures and 10 multi-block separate demonstrations, of which many are interactive,” he said, meaning viewers can sit on them or put their faces through for a photo.

Some of the characters the crowd will find as they stroll through downtown Clarks Summit are Alice in Wonderland, Fairy Godmother, Little Red Riding Hood, Dopey from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Anna of “Frozen,” Mrs. Potts of “Beauty and the Beast,” Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Thumbelina.

“They (the Festival of Ice committee) are very creative and every year they come up with a theme and then they brainstorm. We help them and give them a suggested list of ideas,” Crouthamel said. “That’s what’s so great about the Clarks Summit festival. They challenge us so well every year with a new theme.”

New this year to the 2015 festival, Crouthamel notes, is an interactive mini-slide near Sole to Soul, 535 S. State St., Clarks Summit, “that will look like the glass slipper.”

Another ice carving highlight is a live carving during the parade from 7:30 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 13.

“I’ll be on a float, moving, running a chain saw on a generator on a trailer being towed by a truck. Not the first time, but always a thrill,” he said.

After the ice festival, Crouthamel will be preparing for one of his busiest seasons: spring and summer.

“All summer we’re very busy with weddings,” he said.

Regarding his culinary career, he said, “I say, I climbed the ladder and I hit the top and I jumped. I ended up an ice carver. My lesson to other people is this is not an easy way to make a living, but I made it work.”

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