With a resume that includes work featured at the annual Zoo Lights in Lincoln Park; the Chicago Cubs World Series after-party at Navy Pier; and famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless’ face carved into a mold, there’s no denying that Nadeau’s Ice Sculpture is cool. But America’s oldest ice crafters are now angling to change from factory to gallery, with the addition of new signs, a mural and the remake of its back area into a more relaxing space. Nadeau’s also plans to install a garden and giant Styrofoam swan on the roof, as a nod to the orders that once flooded the 38-year-old business.
“We’re just adapting with the times,” said owner Jim Nadeau. “Back in the day we’d do swans for 4,000 weddings in the summertime. Now a lot of brides are saying, ‘Well, I don’t want my mom’s ice carving.'”
Founded in 1980, and moved to 7623 Roosevelt Road eight years later, Nadeau opened the business after leaving a high-powered career with the Marriott hotel chain. When he first started carving, he remembers using a hand chipper, and knowing he was halfway through the block when his fingers started to bleed. The business has since upgraded to CNC machines — nicknamed “The OG” and “Bulldog,” respectively — which trim the company’s 300-pound, 40-inch blocks of homemade ice to exacting standards. General Manager Max Barajas estimates it takes about five days for designers to complete the ice portraits, luges and Roman columns that have recently become popular.
“We’re finding it’s a really good time for ice sculpting; we’re finding that trades are coming back,” Barajas said. “Things that were lost are now kind of hip. I’m finding that millennials are starting to get into trends that are kind of dying out.”
The rise of ice sculpting has presented an opportunity for Nadeau’s, which is trying to enter new markets with college students (think: drinking luges and beer pong tables), team-building events like bachelorette or corporate “drink and chips,” college tours of the factory, and more. Nadeau’s even installed a projector so it can host private movie screenings. Barajas said the only thing missing now is a snow cone machine.
“The facility itself is so interesting, it’s been a hidden gem in Forest Park for so long,” he said. “People who are a block away are like, ‘I never knew what they did, but I always saw snow in the alley.'”
As a way to raise awareness, Nadeau’s has integrated art into its industrial roots, with its newest addition being a 12-by-18-foot mural mounted to the side of the building on May 31. Designed and drawn by Chicago painter David Wilinski, the painting features a detailed dreamscape of princesses, robots, ice castles and much, much more. Wilinski spent about five months returning to Nadeau’s every day to add details. The final product is intended to be intricate enough for admirers to take in like a museum piece while still catching drivers’ eyes.
“It’s going to become a landmark with everybody coming down Roosevelt Road,” Barajas said. “The business is becoming what we want it to be, which is a living place of fun.”
This article has been updated to reflect that artist David Wilinski painted the mural at Nadeau’s Ice Sculpture.