First Night fever: Festival, activities cure the common New Year's Eve

Marshall Laskowski stared at the stack of ice blocks and said he hoped it would become a Santa hat.

His mother, Kristen, predicted a Pittsburgh Pirates theme touting her 3-year-old son’s favorite player, Andrew McCutchen.

Then veteran ice-cutter Dick Alford gave them the scoop: That ice would be transformed into the shape of a bird.

Kristen Laskowski paused along South Allen Street on Monday afternoon as workers with Jeannette-based DiMartino Ice were setting ice blocks for sculptures that will take form there Tuesday.

The ice sculptures are a popular feature of First Night State College, which runs through the evening across the downtown. The event to welcome the new year also includes food, carriage rides and live entertainment.

“We enjoy coming down every year,” Kristen Laskowski said. “It’s cool to see.”

First Night State College is produced by the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Rick Bryant directs both the summer and winter events.

“Lots of people come downtown to stroll through the ice sculptures, then go get something to eat,” Bryant said.

He said visitors Tuesday will encounter jugglers and a variety of musical styles at several downtown churches and other venues.

Bryant’s organization relies on about 60 volunteers to make First Night happen.

“We have a good team,” he said.

So does DiMartino Ice, which started out with four ice-cutters 20 years ago. This week, the company has six professionals and six apprentices on the job in State College.

After warm, rainy weather Sunday, the ice crew was busy early on Monday, building the ice slide at Sidney Friedman Park at 7 a.m.

“We’re a day behind,” company President Ernie DiMartino said while directing setup work. “We spent all day Sunday in a hotel watching football when we should have been making the ice slide. But we’re catching up. Everybody’s working 120 percent.”

The DiMartino crew brought 120 blocks of uncut ice to State College, with each block weighing nearly 300 pounds. In addition, 78 blocks had been pre-carved.

Large ice settings were put together Monday in preparation for cutting, some blocks lifted into place with a forklift.

Ice sculpting will begin at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, DiMartino said. Those who want to see the shapes emerge can find them along the 100 block of South Allen.

In addition to the ice slide, a functioning piggy bank was finished in Friedman Park on Monday. Visitors can make donations to First Night by dropping money into the piggy bank of ice on the hill above Memorial Field.

Temperatures dropped Monday, and Alford said conditions were “almost perfect” for ice-cutting.

“I love doing it. It’s enjoyable,” said Alford, who traveled to State College from his home in Akron, Ohio. “But it’s the people that really matter, and being able to create something.

“Ice is such an immediate art form. If you tried doing this in stone it would take you months.”

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