First Night: State College Man Sharpens Ice Carving Skills
Every year, gigantic ice sculptures steal the show at First Night State College and for nearly 20 years, State College resident Gary Glenn has been part of the carving team.
Glenn, who grew up near Pittsburgh and moved to State College more than 20 years ago, has been working in culinary arts for his entire career. Just after high school, while working for a restaurant that presented an ice sculpture during Sunday brunch, Glenn asked his boss to teach him how to carve.
"I was blown away by it. I said to him, 'You gotta show me how to do this,'" says Glenn.
Fast forward a few years and Glenn found himself living and working in State College. During the first year of First Night, Glenn caught a glimpse of the event's giant ice sculptures.
A "giant" sculpture is when two or more blocks of ice are fused together to create a sculpture.
"Not too often do you get to cave in a situation like that. I wanted to get involved," says Glenn.
He immediately reached out to Ernie DiMartino, owner of DiMartino Ice in Jeannette, who leads the sculpting event.
"I told him, 'I have to do this, you have to teach me all the tricks of the trade. I fell in love with it," says Glenn.
The best part of First Night, Glenn said, is when folks stop to watch a team's work in progress.
"People stand there and want to ask you questions." says Glenn. "You have to stop and touch base with the crowd because that's what they want. That's the best part. It is fun. It gives me a break. It allows me to talk to kids, let the parents ask questions ... That's what keeps it exciting."
As the teams carve throughout the day, issues are bound to come up. The biggest enemy is weather. Colder temperatures are ideal, but if it's too cold spectators won't come out to watch. And if it's too warm, well, the ice melts.
"When it's 30 to 40 degrees, people come out, the streets are packed ... but ice gets really soft at that point and you get really wet when you're carving," says Glenn. "You have to deal with ice not sticking properly, ... a piece falls off that you didn't want to fall off."
But the teams have some tricks to remedy that problem. Just ask carvers yourself on First Night.
"We always have a good time carving. Every year there seems to be little quirky things that make us all laugh or something," Glenn says.
For First Night, large ice sculptures will be in the 100 block of South Allen Street. Smaller sculptures will be in Sidney Friedman Park, on the Municipal Building Plaza, and in front of sponsoring businesses and churches downtown.
First Night is a massive, family-friendly downtown New Year's Eve celebration that features events from 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 to midnight on Jan. 1. This year is the 20th anniversary of the event in State College, which is modeled after a celebration that started in Boston in 1976.
Nearly all outdoor festivities are free. A $10 button allows access to all indoor performances and concerts. Click HERE for more information.
Watch below to see our video of crews setting up for the ice sculptures.