Frozen: The ephemeral beauty of the winter arts

  • When there’s a dusting of snow, Dave Rothstein creates graphic patterns in his Florence driveway with a shovel. His team won third place at the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in Wisconsin last month for the “Tri-tangle” shown.

  • A 10 ft tall dog made entirely of snow, carved by Dave Rothstein of Northampton and carvers Gerry Petit and Lisa Stevens. This was done for the Regional Snow Sculpture Invitational in Jackson, New Hampshire.

  • The evolution of a 10-foot cat Rothstein carved in his Florence front yard. Submitted photos/Dave Rothstein

  • This piece is called “All the Right Angles” and was carved by Rothstein for the Woodstack Flurry Invitational Snow Sculpture Competition in Woodstock, Vermont. It is 8 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide.

  • Anna Thurber's latest piece, a combination of flowers frozen and magnified by colorful blocks of ice. The sculpture is illuminated at the base. anna thurber

  • David Barclay uses a drill to transfer the outline of an elephant from craft paper onto the surface of two 300-pound blocks of ice in front of the Forbes Library in Northampton on Saturday morning, Feb. 9, 2019. The Forbes is home to the presidential library of former Northampton Mayor Calvin Coolidge who, as a Republican, was the recipient of many "elephant" gifts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay chisels the rump of the elephant. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay chisels the trunk of the elephant. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay uses an electric drill to carve the toenails of an ice elephant sculpture in front of the Forbes Library in Northampton on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay carves an elephant from two 300-pound blocks of ice in front of the Forbes Library in Northampton on Saturday morning, Feb. 9, 2019. The Forbes is home to the presidential library of former Northampton Mayor Calvin Coolidge who, as a Republican, was the recipient of many "elephant" gifts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay uses and electric drill to highlight lines on an ice sculpture of an elephant in front of the Forbes Library in Northampton on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. “For me, ice carving is a fun winter sport that occurs during a narrow window between late January and early February,” Barclay says. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This wolf ice sculpture, created by Joe Almeida, was on display in front of Inspirit Crystals in downtown Northampton on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This moon ice sculpture, created by Joe Almeida, was on display in front of Cathy Cross in downtown Northampton on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Barclay uses electric power tools, hand tools and a household iron to carve and meld an elephant from two 300-pound blocks of ice in front of the Forbes Library in Northampton. “The most rewarding thing is (seeing) the reactions of the people that walk past and are intrigued by what you’re doing — it’s fairly common for adults to be almost giddy,” he says. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Almeida sculpts a snowman from ice during the Amherst WinterFest grand finale held at Cherry Hill Golf Course on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Almeida sculpts a snowman from ice during the Amherst WinterFest grand finale held at Cherry Hill Golf Course on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Almeida sculpts a snowman from ice during the Amherst WinterFest grand finale held at Cherry Hill Golf Course on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This ice sculpture features flowers encapsulated in ice by artist, Anna Thurber. Thurber was supposed to carve for the Northampton Ice Art Festival, but made this in her backyard, in lieu of the cancellation. Anna Thurber

  •   Submitted photos/Dave Rothstein

  • Dave Rothstein makes designs like these on his driveway after a light snowfall. This intricate detail is done with just a snow shovel. Dave Rothstein

  • The end result of David Barclay’s elephant, carved in front of the Forbes Library on Saturday, February 9th. This elephant was carved in honor of Calvin Coolidge’s 100th anniversary of becoming governor of Massachusetts. David Barclay

  • An ice collage by artist, Anna Thurber of Weston. She captures the natural beauty of flowers by freezing them and adding colored dye. The flowers in the ice are outstre and hold their shape because of the oxygen in the plants. Anna Thurber

  • In this frozen arrangement by Anna Thurber, the ice magnifies the petals and the natural oxygen that holds the flowers aloft. “Some of the flowers have a ton of oxygen, like fireworks ... that you can’t see with the naked eye,” she says. SUBMITTED PHOTO/Anna Thurber

  • This is a frozen flower arrangement by Anna Thurber. She uses these sculptures to capture the beauty of flowers and save arrangements from special occasions.  Anna Thurber

  • anna thurber

  • anna thurber

For Hampshire Life
Published: 2/28/2019 5:16:18 PM

When Dave Rothstein wakes up to a driveway full of snow, he does not see it as a burden, but as a blank canvas. Rothstein is a snow and ice carver and a lover of the winter arts, which he describes as “artwork created from snow and ice.” Though his biggest and most ambitious sculptures require hours of effort, Rothstein does not mind their ephemeral nature.

When people ask him why he sculpts things that will disappear in a day, he oftentimes responds, “Why not?” describing the process as a lesson in letting go.

“Oftentimes, beautiful things in life are fleeting. We need to kind of take time to appreciate them. This is my opportunity to be outside and appreciating nature,” he says.

Rothstein, a Florence-based artist, recently retired from his job as an environmental attorney and now focuses on his art. Making winter creations is not his only passion; he also does photography and printmaking. His photography is whimsical and minimalistic; it often features tiny figurines, out-of-focus shots and animated puns. While this type of art is done on a small scale, snow carving is the opposite. Creating his enormous sculptures takes a diverse skill set.

“We’re part weatherman, we’re part sculptor, part artist and part structural engineer,” Rothstein says of being a snow carver.

Creating a detractive sculpture, which is one that takes shape as snow is removed, from a 2-3 ton block of snow can be manually and mathematically challenging. The dimensions need to be perfectly executed in order for the structure to support itself. Rothstein’s latest piece was a large “Tri-tangle,” which he described as “four intersecting triangles balanced on their points.” This abstract sculpture was created with a computer modeling program and based on the mathematical theory of harmonic geometry.

According to Rothstein, a snow sculpture can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days to complete, depending on the size of the snow block and whether he is working alone or with a team. The “Tri-tangle” was done with fellow carvers Brooke Monte and Michael Nedell, both from Burlington, Vermont for the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship in Wisconsin in February, where they won third place.

More commonly, Rothstein makes his creations at home and around town.

“I do what’s called, instead of a random act of kindness, a random art of kindness. I have my own snow form that’s 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet tall, and I throw it in the back of a pick up truck and put it out on someone’s lawn, stuff it full of snow and then go out and carve it,” he explains.

His snow form is constructed of four pieces of plywood that are tethered with a strap. This acts as a large cubic bin in which to shovel and pack snow for sculptures. He built this contraption himself, but he’s also used trash bins as snow forms. (See Make your own masterpiece on page 19.)

Other mornings, Rothstein makes intricate driveway designs — a make-do response to “unseasonably warm winters that have not given us deep enough snow to create large 3-dimensional sculptures,” he explains.

That said, he takes what he gets. “If you have to shovel, you may as well have fun doing it,” he says.

While making his driveway designs simply requires a shovel to create a pattern, snow sculpting requires an array of tools. Rothstein uses two-person saws for making straight cuts, curry combs or sandpaper to smooth the snow, ice augers to make holes and wood carvers and chisels for details. He also adds height and depth to the sculptures using a process called “slushing.” Combining snow and water, often in a warming tent, creates a glue-like substance used to attach additional pieces to the sculpture.

Rothstein has been carving snow for over 20 years. Curiosity sparked his interest after attending a winter festival in Alaska, where he was living at the time. “I taught myself to some degree,” he says, emulating the techniques he observed first-hand. “Part of the challenge is taking time away from sculpting to observe other people, their techniques and everything else.”

At that initial festival, the Anchorage Fur Rondy in 1998, he made a 10-foot grizzly bear set in a summer scene — complete with a lawn chair and a surfboard. Beyond the art itself, he was struck by the sense of camaraderie between the artists.

Sculpting is a community of collaboration and skill-sharing, so when retired Northampton painter David Barclay sought out Rothstein three years ago with an interest in ice sculpting as a way to make his art more three-dimensional, Rothstein gave him a crash course in carving.

According to Rothstein, “We just got a couple ice blocks and we got together in my driveway. I showed him some of the techniques, and he’s grown from there.”

Barclay has since created penguins, angelfish and reindeer for festivals, including the Northampton Ice Art Festival, the Greenfield Winter Festival, Stowe, Vermont’s Winter Carnival and the Stowe National Ice Carving Competition.

With animals, creating natural-looking details and a sense of movement is the tricky part. “The challenge for me is always to get the proportions correct and to make them realistic,” Barclay says.

He uses electric chainsaws for bulk carving, chisels for shaping, right angle carvers for smoothing and rounding and die grinders for texture. Purchasing large-scale versions of these tools is expensive, so Barclay often hacks his own versions, buying chisels at flea markets, say, and attaching them to salvaged oak banister spindles to form long handles fit for carving — a $10 DIY version of a $100 store-bought implement.

Like snow carving, ice carving is largely detractive, but artists like Barclay use a process similar to slushing to add extra pieces to their sculptures. “Fusing” is the term they use.

Fusing involves heating an aluminum plate with an iron and sliding it between two blocks of ice. As you remove the plate, and press the ice blocks into each other, they will stick together.

In February, Barclay carved a baby elephant out of two, 300 pound ice blocks in front of Forbes Library in Northampton to honor the 100th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge becoming governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge, a Republican, received many elephant statues during his presidency.

Barclay was supposed to be one of several artists scheduled to make ice creations on the sidewalks of Northampton, in front of sponsoring businesses, for the ninth annual Northampton Ice Art Festival, but the festival was cancelled this year due to a rainy, 50 degree forecast on carving day. Consequently, only three sculptures were made: Barclay’s elephant and two by artist Joe Almeida, who carved a wolf in front of Inspirit Crystals and a moon in front of Cathy Cross on a subsequent day.

Joe Almeida, who’s been carving for over 37 years, has been contributing to the Northampton Ice Art Festival since it first began. Ice carving is a side job and a passion for Almeida, who is a chef and a manager at Partner’s Restaurant in Feeding Hills. Besides carving for the Northampton event this year, he also gave a carving demonstration at the Amherst Winterfest.

He says he’s drawn to these ice sculpting festivals not only for the happy reactions of onlookers but the attraction the sculptures bring to town. “As long as the town is doing something inspiring and keeping everything lively, it brings a lot of businesses in.”

Almeida did not let the delay stop him from delivering two dazzling sculptures to his sponsoring businesses. Though he says that it was the decision of his sponsors to continue with the sculptures, he was happy to oblige — he just delivered them a day later to avoid the rain.

“The carvers are unable to carve in the rain because many use electrical tools and because the rain weakens the ice, and can wash away any detail that they try to carve,” says Amy Cahillane, the Executive Director of the Downtown Northampton Association, about the decision to cancel this year’s event. “I've heard from one carver that he has had three events cancelled this year as a result of warming temps.”

Rothstein intended to sculpt at the Northampton Ice Art Festival as well, but wasn’t available on the colder day. “It’s a mixed blessing these days, with climate change. I look back over the last six or seven years and think about how many events have been cancelled. As much as my appreciation of winter has deepened, winter itself seems to be less predictable,” says Rothstein. He’s thinking it might be time to get into sand sculpting.

Rothstein was planning to collaborate with ice artist Anna Thurber of Weston. Thurber is an artist who got her start painting and selling architectural glass blocks, but now makes colored ice capsules, using them as magnifying glasses for frozen flower arrangements. She had planned to combine her floral ice blocks with Rothstein’s skill for carving.

Rothstein first met Thurber through Instagram two years ago, and he was impressed with her work.

“I loved that she was doing something unique in ice art, and doing it so beautifully. I have a deep respect for her passion and her aesthetic. She too understands that magic inherent in ice — both its formation and how it melts,” Rothstein says.

Thurber learned her winter art form on her own. For her sculptures, she starts by boiling the water to release any excess oxygen, making for clearer ice (Barclay gets his ice from Summit Ice in Greenfield). Once the water has cooled, she fills pots, buckets and other containers with various amounts of water and freezes flower arrangements into place using water tinted with cold water fabric dye. She has to wait for each colored layer to freeze before adding the next.

The more layers and elements the sculpture has, explains Thurber, the longer it will take to produce.

She uses an ice pick if she needs to break into the ice and insert an element into a frozen layer she’s already worked on. Otherwise, once a piece is frozen, Thurber can not go back and make changes without waiting for it to melt. Part of her process that she enjoys is taking photos of her work to preserve it.

“Her studies in ice and botanicals are amazing,” says Rothstein. “In person, her ice renderings are mesmerizing, and her photographs capture the scenes incredibly well, creating the appearance of an oil or acrylic painting.”

The alternate view into flowers that these sculptures provide is, indeed, amazing. The ice acts as a magnifying glass, displaying the intricate details found in each flower. Every petal is illuminated.

“You never see anything like the way they look in ice, as you do in person, but freezing it shows us what is going on. Some of the flowers have a ton of oxygen, like fireworks, like fourth of July fireworks. And that you can’t see with the naked eye,” Thurber says of her work.

According to Thurber, the oxygen is what makes the flowers stand tall and spread in different directions, both in nature and in ice, where the oxygen creates visible streaks.

And though the art of Thurber, Rothstein and Barclay is ephemeral, the experience of bringing joy to others during winter endures.

“The most rewarding thing is (seeing) the reactions of the people that walk past and are intrigued by what you’re doing — it’s fairly common for adults to be almost giddy about what they see you doing,” says Barclay. “You would expect children to be excited, but I think it’s so interesting that adults get as jazzed up about it as kids.”

Isabel Fowler is an editorial intern at the Gazette and a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studies English and Spanish. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she’s interested in pursuing journalism at a graduate level and enjoys music, travel, movies and contemporary art.

Make Your Own Masterpiece

To create a snow sculpture, Rothstein recommends using a garbage bin as a snow form.

Fill the bin with snow and pack it down tightly with a shovel — or by stomping.

Then flip the bin over and leave it out overnight to allow the snow to harden.

In the morning, when you remove the bin, you will have a stiff snow block ready to carve using everyday kitchen items like spoons, knives or even just hands (wearing gloves, of course). Rothstein says that if you want to plan the end result, you can make a quick “snow doodle” on paper, but “part of what makes snow sculpting fun is that it can be impromptu or premeditated.” No matter what you end up with, it will be cooler than a standard snowman.




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