The Ice Man Carveth: Ex-Chef Now Serves Up Frozen Artworks

Bill Covitz spends his days inside an 18-degree warehouse freezer wielding a chainsaw.

As an ice sculptor running his own Waterbury-based business, Ice Matters, with his wife, Jen, Covitz says working inside a freezer is crucial.

“Other ice sculptors carve outside, in the shade. They can’t imagine carving in the freezer,” he says. “I can’t imagine not.”

As a former chef, Covitz specialized in French cuisine and traveled around the United States, Belgium and to France.

Fine dining “was about how beautiful you could make the plate,” he says.

As a chef, he often was asked to create ice sculptures to accompany his food, and, says Covitz, “I fell in love with it.” Over the years, he’s gone beyond decorating tables with his ice creations to competing in national and international contests.

In 1996, Covitz began to carve competitively and went on to become the 2004 champion at the National Ice Carving Association’s competition. He took a break to focus on his family (he and his wife live in Cheshire with their two boys, Liam, 8, and Joshua, 3) and to run his business before returning to competitions in 2006.

Covitz will compete next at the Lyman Orchards Winterfest during the circus-themed “Ice Wars” challenge Feb. 26 and Feb. 27.

Covitz, whose mother and grandmother were both painters, now can make everything from a corporate logo and a pterodactyl with a 12-foot wingspan to a dainty shot glass with ice. Most recently, he’s done a martini glass that holds two quarts of liquid and has a working spigot as well as a life-size ringmaster.

To carve, Covitz uses various tools. The chainsaw shapes the basic structure; the angle grinder smoothes the cuts, much like a sander; the die grinder, used like a pencil, creates small curves and details; the iron and large handsaw adhere two pieces of ice together; and the torch, used last, smoothes the ice and makes it clear as glass.

But his favorite tools are his assortment of large, medium and small chisels, which he keeps sharp enough to effortlessly slice through ice.

“A lot of people don’t use chisels anymore; they’re all about power tools,” he says. “I still like them a lot, so I use them often.”

While carving in his studio, Covitz – always bundled in a winter coat, snow pants, boots, gloves and a hat (but no goggles, which he says would instantly fog up and obstruct his view while working) – tends to “jump all over the piece” with the tools, he says.

The power tools that he uses produce a blanket of ice dust that clings to his clothing. (“The worst is when ice gets in between his gloves and his skin,” he says.) He eventually removes it with an air blower. The ice and snow that accumulate on the ground are eventually removed with a shovel.

“It gets a little tiring, especially in the winter,” he says. “You get used to it.”

SELF-FULFILLMENT

Looking forward to next week’s contest, Covitz says, “I want it to be a good competition. I compete for myself. That’s where it breaks up the monotony of the everyday grind. I can come up with my own piece. That’s where I get my real fulfillment.”

Though he competes less now than he did before, Covitz does plan to get back into it within the next year, he says.

He recently returned from Norway’s annual Ice Music Festival, which he’s participated in for six years. He got involved after musician Arthur Lipner asked for his help creating an ice marimba for the event.

“I do a lot of repetitive sculptures for weddings and things like that, so I was really intrigued by this,” he says. Since then, Covitz created an ice stage in 2010 and several working ice instruments each year, including a flaming guitar.

As for what Covitz looks for in an ice canvas, it’s clarity, he says. He owns several specialized machines – at $6,000 each – that make the clearest ice possible. Each machine produces four 300-pound clear blocks per week.

How does Covitz feel knowing his art will eventually be a puddle?

“It’s good and bad. There is something special about it. It shows that this sculpture was personalized for you, even if it’s just a swan for the wedding,” he says. “The fact that it melts away is proof that it’s made just for you.”

Published in Hartford Courant

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