NSCAD students liven up Dartmouth ice festival

Event featured sculptures such as Disney characters and classic Nova Scotia themes

3 min read
Kneeling man uses chainsaw to carve an ice sculpture.
caption Joel Palmer carved a sculpture of a child holding a star for an audience of adults and children alike.
Kaitlyn MacNeill

This year’s Downtown Dartmouth Ice Festival involved 13 participants from NSCAD, giving arts students a rare opportunity to showcase their ideas. 

The fifth annual festival took place on Portland Street this weekend with the students invited to carve their own ice sculptures while pedestrians looked on.

Eric-Oliver Theriault, a fourth-year NSCAD student and visual artist, said the medium is close to plaster, “almost like cutting butter.” Although he has had experience with painting and sculpting before, he was “really excited” to try carving ice.

Theriault was chosen by his team to help cut big blocks for other students, so he had less time than his peers to work on his own sculpture. However, he was still able to create his own conceptual piece, a large rectangular block of ice with a long water hose poking through various parts. The piece was meant to symbolize “consumerism, nothingness and waste of resources.”

Man drills into a wooden box covering a block of ice, with a water hose going through it.
caption Eric-Oliver Theriault created a conceptual ice sculpture for the NSCAD student display at the Dartmouth Ice Festival.
Kaitlyn MacNeill

According to Theriault, having work displayed in public is important for a young artist.

“When you’re in school, it’s rare that you’re asked to show your art to the public,” said Theriault. “It’s great for us art students to have the opportunity to show what’s in our mind, to be exposed.”

Thousands of people flooded Portland Street to take in the sculptures, such as Tim Leatch and his family.

“It’s a fun time,” said Leatch. “The kids love it and it’s a good chance to get out of the house and see some cool art.”

Man and three children stand in front of an ice sculpture shaped like Mickey Mouse.
caption Tim Leatch and his children enjoyed looking at the ice artwork on display. The sculpture of Mickey Mouse was especially eye-catching for the kids.
Kaitlyn MacNeill

According to Tim Rissesco, CEO of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, around 40,000 people came to view the sculptures at last year’s ice festival.

The festival featured various ice sculptures made by nine different professional carvers. Sculptures of Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh received recognition from the younger crowd, while carvings of boats and fish alluded to Nova Scotia culture. Carvers even made sculptures catering to Dartmouth businesses such as Renegade Records. 

Joel Palmer is a nationally renowned ice carver who has worked with the medium for almost a decade. Having carved sculptures for the festival since it first started in 2019, Palmer was happy to see students try their hand at the craft.

“If you’re an artistic person, these sorts of events are great for opening up new ideas of where you want to go with your art,” said Palmer. “If you’re someone who likes working with 3D, ice sculpting could be a cool pathway to go down.”

According to Palmer, the best thing you can do as a young artist is commit. 

“Art is not easy,” said Palmer. “You have to be willing to put your time in. 

“When I was younger, I never thought I could make a profession as an artist… I stumbled across an ice sculpting workshop one day, now I’m one of the top sculptors in Canada.”

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About the author

Kaitlyn MacNeill

Kaitlyn MacNeill is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of King's College living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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