- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) - Standing in a freezer with the temperature at 18 degrees, Bill Covitz is in his world.

The world-renowned ice sculptor- a national title in 2004 and second-place finishes worldwide and nationally in 2006 -is finishing an elephant for an upcoming event.

Covitz is wielding a chainsaw, creating the animal from a block of ice.

“Sculpting, art, everything is repetition. I can’t tell you how many elephants I’ve carved or how many swans I have carved,” Covitz said outside of his business, Ice Matters.

On Jan. 5, Covitz is in his 18-by-15-foot walk-in freezer, putting the finishing touches on the elephant for an event at a retirement community in Stamford.

“We spend about 10 to 12 hours a day in there,” Covitz said, pointing toward the freezer.

Though it’s very cold, Covitz said he rarely notices the temperature because he is helping move 300-pound blocks of ice, wielding a chainsaw and shoveling the ice.

“The only time I’m cold in there is when I am doing a piece I don’t know; then I really have to think,” Covitz said.

Covitz has been ice sculpting for close to 20 years after a career as a chef.

“I never imagined it. I thought I would be some great chef somewhere, but I just got really tired of the hours, working every holiday,” he said.

After traveling all around the country- including a stint as a personal chef for a billionaire in Belgium -Covitz got into ice carving in Newport, Rhode Island, and ended his culinary career.

He worked under a prominent ice carver before opening his own shop in 1999.

“We’re bringing happiness, we’re matching what somebody wants sculpted and presenting it at their function,” he said.

Covitz is now ready to attach the trunk, which he shaped from another block of ice. Covitz takes the trunk out of the freezer to an ironing board and smooths out the seam where the trunk will be attached to the body.

“We use an aluminum plate about a half-inch to an inch thick; anything too thin will warp it,” he said, moving the plate back and forth across the seam.

He then takes the plate into the freezer to smooth out the seam on the main body.

“Always do the same to both sides,” he said.

When both sides are smooth and flat, Covitz places the trunk in position on the body and prepares to “glue” them together.

“Our glue is water,” he said, pouring water out of a bottle on the edges of both pieces.

He holds the pieces together for a few seconds and they stick.

“It’s like instantly frozen, but you want to wait to make it fully frozen before carving,” he said.

When the pieces are together, Covitz cuts off more of the body surrounding the trunk and smooths the ice around it.

He then takes the iron to the sides of the face of the elephant and adds two ears.

With all the different pieces of the elephant together, Covitz starts adding detail.

As Covitz adds the eyes, his lead carver, who has been with him the past three years, stops working on another project and watches.

“It takes a lot of practice and dedication, but when I turn around and I watch him do something … he makes it look so easy I am like, ‘Wow, I have so long to go,’?” Dylan Fortier said.

Fortier, originally from California, takes care of a lot of the sculpting while Covitz handles the more difficult projects and the business side. Mike Cappazi, the third member of the team, is in charge of block production and packaging.

“There’s nothing else quite like it,” Fortier said. “There’s no room for error, but at the same time everything is hand done so nothing comes out the same twice.”

After Covitz puts the finishing touches on the elephant, it is packaged- shrink-wrapped in plastic, then in a blanket and then plastic again -before being shipped to Stamford.

During holiday season, the team did 75 to 100 jobs a week. They are now busy preparing sculptures for the Old Saybrook Fire and Ice Festival, where they will also do demonstrations.

“I get a lot of joy with speaking with a client and making something custom for them,” Covitz said. “It’s the thing that keeps you going.”

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Information from: Record-Journal, https://www.record-journal.com

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