The 40th Annual Winterfest

The 40th Annual Winterfest (Promotional Photo)

Most people create art — in musical, visual or written form — as a way to preserve their thoughts, transcend the mundane, even approach immortality if things go really well. Bill Covitz has been a sculptor for 10 years and one of the most prolific artists in his medium, yet you'll never see a large collection of his work. His pieces are gone within a few days, sometimes a few hours. Covitz works in the most transient of mediums — ice. His 10-foot-tall dragons breathe real fire. He crafts working string instruments from guitars to harps that melt away soon after they are completed. All he is left with are photos and memories. But he doesn't care.

"I love that it's natural, a temporary art form, the pieces specifically designed for the function. What I need, I take from the earth, freeze it, mold it and then it returns to the Earth," the Cheshire resident said.

Nowhere is this truer than in Norway, where Covitz travels each January. For the last seven winters, it's been a highlight of his year to fly to the city of Geilo and craft working ice instruments for the Ice Music Festival, a concert of frozen water instruments performed once a year under a full moon before the instruments are left to melt. The sculptor is responsible for making the first working ice guitar in the world. His ice bodies employ traditional bridges and strings and can be tuned and played just like a permanent instrument.

"In Norway, they treat ice like gold. After the concert they leave everything to melt back into the ground, like an offering," he said.

Connecticut residents will get a chance to see Covitz at work next week when he competes at Lyman Orchards Winterfest. The Middlefield orchard will offer three ice carving competitions over two days as well as serving food, offering carriage rides and sled dog mushing demonstrations.

When asked what he's made from ice, a surprising list spews from the artist. Items you'd never think of, he has crafted from ice, dishes, mugs and shot glasses join the standard corporate logos and wedding swans in his repertoire. New designs are constantly churned out of his Waterbury studio, called Ice Matters.

Often working with over 500 pounds of ice in an 12 degree freezer, he begins by cutting the ice with a chain saw then refining it with a series of chisels. Covitz won the national ice carving competition in 2004 with an 11-foot tall Cat in The Hat sculpture balanced on one leg. Though the competition at Lyman is much smaller, he pushes the limits in every contest he enters.

Earlier this year, he had a piece break just before a judging in West Virginia. He curses himself for the technical mistake he made while calculating the strength of ice needed to support a Phoenix sculpture with a 12-foot wingspan, but he knows it's all part of the game. "I go for it. If the piece falls, I learn," he said.

Ice carving's secrets can only be learned via countless failures: the complexity of the ice, its strength, weakness, resilience and how far you can push the boundaries of nature.


The 40th Annual Winterfest Feb. 25 & 26

Lyman Orchards, at the Junction of Routes 147 & 157, Middlefield, (860) 349-1793, lymanorchards.com. To learn more about Covitz's work, visit icematters.net.

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