Intricate carvings return for Plymouth Ice Festival

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

It may look a little different this year, but the Plymouth Ice Festival will still be a cool destination this weekend as an estimated 80 detailed sculptures adorn the streets of downtown Plymouth. Some will arrive on Thursday with the remainder on display Friday through Sunday.

Though the sidewalks will be lined with intricate ice carvings, live competitions and other interactive activities have been postponed until 2022. Visitors are encouraged to wear masks at all times and practice social distancing.

Normally, Tony Bruscato, director for the Plymouth Downtown Development Authority (DDA) says they have a lot of sculptures in Kellogg Park where people would gather. “That was the main focus,” he says. “To keep people socially distanced this year, we have all the sculptures throughout the town where they can visit the stores and restaurants.”

Olive Winkler, 2, of Plymouth poses with a butterfly sculpture at the Plymouth Ice Festival.

We're offering a great deal on all-access subscriptions. Check it out here.

As he explains, the festival started nearly 40 years ago as a way to bring people downtown during the winter months, which is more important now than ever. “Especially in this day and age, we want to make sure businesses survive, so we still hold events in the hopes they get noticed by people who support them while they’re here or come back and support them.”

The DDA will also host a bingo card scavenger hunt for a chance to win $50 gift cards from participating merchants. Cards are available at the event and can also be downloaded online at “We’re doing whatever we can to keep people moving around town. We’re just trying to make it as safe as we can for everyone,” Bruscato says. “People are tired of staying inside. They’re looking for something to do that is safe. We think people will come out and enjoy the day and the weather should cooperate.”

A number of sculptures will be from seasoned carver, Jeff Wolf, who owns Finesse Ice. Based in Shelby Township with an ice studio in Clinton Township, the former chef taught culinary arts at Macomb Community College where he still teaches ice carving part-time.

“This year is a real blessing for me and a pleasure to do street sculptures,” says Wolf whose enchanting creations include the Eiffel Tower, Baby Yoda, Mickey Mouse and a clam shell with a heart-shaped oyster in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Back when he was in culinary school, an ice-carving class that was part of the program got his attention. “I knew something about this intrigued me,” he says. “Ice is hard, but as the day goes on with a piece like a wedding sculpture, it changes slightly as it softens.”

Today he carves ice sculptures and wood sculptures. “I put on my headphones and I’m in my own little zone,” he says.

Wolf, who works with a team of his former students, especially likes to design ice sculptures that evoke an emotion, like cartoon characters that appeal to parents for their nostalgia. He also enjoys connecting sculptures to their designated location like a bookworm for the Plymouth District Library. “We have fun,” he says.

He compares the short lifespan of the ice sculptures to his days in the restaurant business. “When you make a meal and it’s really creative, you know that someone is going to enjoy it and in 10 minutes it’s gone,” he says. “The ice sculptures are something people will remember. If it makes them smile, I’m happy.”

The winter weather should preserve them for the duration of the event. “We’re going to have a beautifully cold weekend,” Wolf says. “The sculptures are going to glisten in the sun.”