The Art of Ice Sculpture
December 1, 2012
Artist Bill Bywater returns to Cold Spring by Candlelight
By Mary Ann Ebner
If artist Bill Bywater’s wish comes true, residents and visitors to the Village of Cold Spring will cover themselves in wool sweaters and warm mittens Dec. 1 at Cold Spring by Candlelight. A professional commercial sculptor, Bywater works with subtractive mediums, and he’ll use several hundred pounds of ice to demonstrate the skill involved in carving the frosty material by hand. To extend a longer shelf life to his creations, the artist needs two key elements — shade and cold weather.
“Last year was one of the warmest winters we’ve had,” Bywater said. “If we have cold weather this year, the sculptures could last a week.”
A resident of New Windsor in Orange County, Bywater transformed frigid blocks of glaze into festive sculptures at last year’s event, and he’s looking forward to sharing marvel and amazement with his 2012 designs. Bywater and his apprentice carvers will carve between 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of St. Mary’s Church.
“I’ll be carving on the north side of St. Mary’s,” Bywater said. “I want to be in the shade so this is a great location. As I was located so close to St. Mary’s last year, I did an angel kneeling with praying hands and also a reindeer. I’ll be doing two ice carvings to fit the holiday theme this year, but not announcing the designs. People can come by and see the beginnings, an intermediate step, and they will want to come back when it’s done.”
Bywater returns to Cold Spring with an immense block of ice and his tools of the trade: chainsaws with modified chains, die grinders, chisels, aluminum plates, work table, iron, and industry-specific ice carving gloves from Japan. A member of the National Ice Carving Association (NICA) since 1988, the sculptor considers hand ice carving a discipline that’s been challenged by machine fabrication. NICA was formed in 1987 to promote ice carving as a creative art form.
Hand ice carvers transform ice blocks into creative art.
According to NICA, the organization boasts a national network of more than 600 ice sculptors, some who advanced through traditional culinary training programs, and others like Bywater who found the art form through an alternate route. In 1988, two years after graduating from the College of Saint Rose with a bachelor of science degree in studio arts, he was invited by the owner of a Hudson Valley restaurant to join their ice-carving team at an event in Mountain Top, Penn. Bywater immersed himself in the carving community and continues to compete in competitions.
“I was trained as a sculptor, and not a chef,” the artist said, “but I placed 20th out of 40 ice carving for the first time among many chefs.”
If you’ve missed Bywater’s ice carvings around the region, you may have seen his work in other venues. His theatrical sculptures have graced the stages of a long list of Broadway shows and television productions. He also works in architectural restoration and creates garden statuary, sculpting with Styrofoam, making his own molds, and casting them in concrete.
He continues to work as a commercial sculptor and sustains Styrofoam and ice as preferred mediums. Kevin McDonald, a past president of NICA who hosted Bywater’s inaugural ice-carving event in Mountain Top, recognized Bywater’s natural ability to work with ice, and the artists share an appreciation for the art form.
“I’ve known Bill for a long time,” McDonald said, “and he’s spent a lot of time at our restaurant (Damenti’s). He comes down and helps out with a lot of carving. It’s a great attraction. I’ve seen what these machines can do, and it’s perfect, but people are fascinated to see hand carvers. It’s amazing what can be built.”
Bywater begins each carving with a concept in mind and marks his ice for initial shaping. He removes edges, rounds corners, and outlines details. As he shapes and defines, his die grinder spins at 25,000 rotations per minute. Feathery shards of ice fly from the ice block as his creation takes shape, and within a short time, he’s chipping, smoothing, and rinsing the sculpture for display.
“Kids in the crowd always like to call out the next tool I’m going to use,” Bywater said. “And they love to see the end result.”
Photos by M. Ebner