Northampton ice art remains on display through the weekend

Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014
Celebrating Valentine’s Day in downtown Northampton? Be on the look-out for ice.

The annual Northampton Ice Art Festival will return for the fourth time to the city on Feb. 14, with seven artists creating sculptures on the sidewalks out of 300-pound blocks of ice.

“We’re trying to make it an occasion for them,” said Penny Burke, executive director of the Center for the Arts, co-producers of the festival with the Northampton Business Improvement District.

The artists will create sculptures at nine locations on the stretch of Main Street from Thornes Marketplace to Fitzwilly’s. Every skill set will be represented, from the seasoned ice sculpture professionals to multimedia artists trying their hand with ice for the first time. All will craft their creations before the eyes of passersby and onlookers.

“I really do like to watch the process in progress,” said Burke in an interview last week. “The finished product is lovely, but watching them is a lot of fun.” Part of that fun? Watching the artists make mistakes and then find inventive ways to correct them, Burke says.

“You know that people are going to be watching,” said Holyoke painter and sculptor Greg Stone, who is returning to the festival for the fourth time. “It’s a given. It becomes a whole different ball game right there. ... It’s nice to share it that way.”

Although Stone says his plans are not yet set in stone (or ice), he may revisit a frequent subject of his: birds. He says the younger generation seems to enjoy his pieces that feature feathered creatures, especially owls. “I try to involve the kids,” he said.

Mending hearts

Choosing a subject has proven to be only half the battle, with the weather often coming in between an artist and his or her vision. Being at the will of the weather, Burke says, is a risk of working outdoors, and with ice.

“Each year we’ve learned a little more about how to do it,” she said. “Like don’t make one of the sites in an all-day sunny spot.”

During the festival’s second year, a location in direct sunlight caused premature melting of Stone’s sculpture, derailing some of his delicate detail work.

“Part of the face fell right off,” he said.

While Stone was forced to react quickly to repair his sculpture, he also found himself mending the heart of a young onlooker.

“She was crying. She liked it,” he said. “I had to tell her it would be all right.”

Stone found a solution — piling extra ice onto the sculpture and allowing it to freeze. While the fix proved to be less than ideal, Stone says, an artist has to expect the unexpected, regardless of the medium.

“We never get exactly what we want. But sometimes it’s better,” he said.

The battle against the elements is something all too familiar for the organizers of the event, which was thwarted last year after February’s Winter Storm Nemo forced artists to hang up their tools. While the last-minute cancellation meant that the 300-pound blocks of ice would go unused and artists’ visions would be unfulfilled, Burke says, enthusiasm for the festival has remained high.

Quench your thirst

Also participating this year will be Eric Fontecchio, a Boston-area ice sculptor and frequent collaborator with Greenfield’s Summit Ice. His resume includes sculptures at each of Boston’s First Night celebrations since 1983.

Fontecchio is slated to construct the “V-One Luge,” that will not only serve as art, but will also serve martinis. The luge will be on display and ready to quench the thirst of patrons on the terrace of the Eastside Grill.

The 21-and-older set won’t be the only ones who get to enjoy a functional art piece: Donald Chapelle plans to produce a replica of the Iron Throne from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” at Thornes Marketplace.

Chapelle, also of the Boston area, is a 30-year veteran ice sculptor who has contributed works for the past 25 of Boston’s First Night celebrations. The ornate work will provide plenty of photo opportunities, as onlookers will be invited to don a crown and wield a sword.

Westfield ice artist Joe Almeida of Sculptures on Ice will complete two sculptures: one at Cathy Cross and one at Florence Savings Bank. The designs, he says, will be festive and quite large: each using at least two blocks of ice, totaling 600 pounds.

“I like challenges. Doing two instead of one simple one,” Almeida said.

In addition to these seasoned veterans, Ashfield’s Robert Markey, best known for his mosaic work, will be creating a piece in front of Silverscape Designs; furniture maker Peter Dellert of Holyoke will switch gears to create a work in front of William Baczek Fine Arts; and Easthampton metalworker and painter Matt Johnson will produce a sculpture at Fitzwilly’s.

While the event’s organizers decided to set the theme as love for Valentine’s Day, Burke is well-aware of the limitations of this.

“I don’t know what the different artists are planning for their sculptures. One would think that there would be a Valentine’s Day theme,” she said. “But you can’t tell an artist what to do.”

On Feb. 14, artists will begin work on their sculptures at 10 a.m. The illuminated pieces will be on display from 5 to 8 p.m., or longer, depending on the weather. For more information and a map of locations, visit the Northampton Business Improvement District’s website at www.northamptondowntown.com.