Downers Grove on ice: Annual festival brings unique sculptures to downtown district

Annual event to include live carvings near Metra station

The snow may have melted off the ground this week, but Downers Grove is about to get a lot of ice – about 18,000 pounds as a matter of fact, as the downtown businesses and residents prepare for the annual Downtown Downers Grove Ice Festival.

The festival will take place Feb. 2 through February 4 with live ice carving taking place each day. Friday’s live carvings will take place at 5:30 p.m. on the southeast corner of Main and Curtiss streets to kick off the event and will continue from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Main Street train station on both Saturday and Sunday.

“The ice festival is a great reason to get out of the house in the winter,” said Erin Venezia, executive director of the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corporation. “Stroll, shop and dine the downtown while enjoying the beautiful ice sculpture art, including the live ice carving demonstrations.”

The festival will feature about 60 pre-carved ice sculptures that will line the streets of downtown Downers Grove, and an additional 10 sculptures will be carved live. Some sculptures visitors may see will include the Eiffel Tower, a leprechaun and a football player, as well as the popular ice games, including a bean bag toss and Bozo buckets.

The sculptures are provided by Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures, and Max Barajas, who works at Nadeau’s, said this is the company’s 27th year providing ice for the festival. Nadeau’s is the oldest ice sculpting company in America, Barajas said, and while their sculpting process has evolved with technology, Nadeau’s is committed to preserving old-school hand carving methods, tools and techniques even today.

“People see, touch and use ice all the time – but not in this way,” Barajas said. “It always shocks people to see what we go through to sculpt these projects because it’s so unfamiliar and truly incredible.”

Barajas said each sculpture begins as a 300-pound block of ice and is carved down from there. It takes sculptors roughly an hour to turn that block into something unique. For the ice festival’s live sculpting, the only parameter Barajas provides to his sculptors is that their effort cannot duplicate one of the 60 pre-sculpted projects on display, giving them freedom to express their creativity and a bit of challenge as well.

Putting together the ice festival begins long before spectators arrive to see live carvings, however, as about six of Barajas employees will started delivery of the pre-sculpted ice at midnight the night before the fest begins.

Each day of live carving will involve two different sculptors as well, totaling up to six sculptors for the duration of the event. That’s not all though, Barajas said, as about 12 to 15 additional employees began work even prior to the midnight deliveries, harvesting and slicing ice at Nadeau’s factory, located at 7623 Roosevelt Road, Forest Park.

“People are welcome to see our in-shop process anytime,” Barajas said. “It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory to see what we do, and every person who works here tells a different story about what we’re doing, so every visit you learn something new about who we are and what we do.”

Barajas encourages people to stop in at the factory anytime for a tour, and while a call ahead is appreciated it is not required. Being an all-Illinois company, Barajas said Nadeau’s is always happy to accommodate people as best it can to show them what the company is all about.

Residents who make it out to this year’s fest are invited to post a picture of themselves at the festival on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #DGICEFEST for a chance to win a $25 gift card to downtown Downers Grove businesses. Some participating businesses include The Paper Peony, Gatto’s and Happy Dog, and a full map of the sponsored sculptures can be found at

“Ice sculpting is just unlike any other artform,” Barajas said. “No other art process or medium happens this fast – these sculptures happen in an hour and very few other projects across all mediums can show you something from an unstarted project to finished project in 60 minutes.”