BREWER, Maine — Working a few feet away from the open waters of the Penobscot River, three sculptors labored to create masterpieces from a common natural material that seems to be disappearing from the area rapidly this winter.
The blocks of ice with which the men worked were just about the only sighting of the frozen stuff Saturday morning, the second day of Brewer’s annual Winterfest celebration, which included an ice sculpting competition behind the Muddy Rudder restaurant on South Main Street.
Each team gets two blocks of ice, each about 4 feet high, and four hours to create a sculpture. The theme for 2010 was tropical fantasy — which seemed fitting for the lack of ice on the river and scrappy snow on the ground.
Although temperatures may have seemed far from tropical to spectators — by around 10:30 a.m. it was in the upper 30s with a steady breeze — the conditions were a little too mild for the carvers.
The ice sculptors were busy at work and couldn’t step aside to talk Saturday morning, but Jeff Day of Ice Designs in Sanbornton, N.H., who runs the contest for the city of Brewer, said the sculptors probably weren’t happy with the temperatures.
“It’s kind of too warm,” Day said as he worked on a Winterfest sign made of ice and colored sand. “We like it to be in 20s. They’re not going to be able to fuse things together. I did a seahorse with the head fused on, which I did earlier this morning, and I’m pretty nervous about it coming apart later.”
Some of the sculptors brought dry ice to help keep things together as the temperatures continued to climb. Winterfest chairwoman Cindy Benson said the weather — and the fact that the river was not ice-covered — was unusual.
“This is the first time it’s been open in the eight years we’ve been doing this,” Benson said Saturday morning.
The Winterfest committee canceled a softball tournament planned for Saturday morning because the field behind Brewer High School is so hard there was worry about participants hurting themselves if they fell.
“It was a liability issue,” Benson said before heading inside the Muddy Rudder to set up for the festival’s chowder and chili cookoff, both of which were won by the host restaurant.
Winterfest got off to a bang Friday night, Benson said, as more than 400 people gathered to watch fireworks over the river after a reception at the Muddy Rudder. More festival-goers began their day Saturday at a French toast breakfast at the Brewer Auditorium.
Some of those people began trickling down to the Brewer waterfront later in the morning, where the ice sculptors had set up their saws, chisels, brushes, hot plates and other equipment to participate in the contest.
Heidi Bailey of Bangor brought her sons, 6-year-old Nicholas and 3-year-old Dylan, to let them get their first look at ice carving and to show the boys there are many ways to use tools.
“I wanted them to see there are other things to do with chain saws than run after each other around the house with their [toy] chain saws,” Bailey said.
Murray Long of Wicked Good Ice in New Hampshire won the sculpture competition. He also was the 2009 champion.
The events wrapped up Saturday evening with a bonfire on Acme Road, which was a new event for the 2010 festival.