The Icemen Cometh to HarborFrost


Scott Rella

Carving Frozen Sculptures Enters the Realm of the Theatrical

By Annette Hinkle

While most artists strive to create art for the ages, there is a whole other class of artist for whom creative expression is more about the moment.

There’s something poetic about art forms that aren’t meant to last. Sidewalk murals, mandalas, sand castles — all are ethereal creations which in a very short time, are blown or washed away by the forces of nature, their existence made more precious by the fact it was so fleeting in the first place.

At this time of year, it’s easy to imagine another example of an impermanent art form— the ice sculpture. Carved of the strongest of winter’s materials, it takes only the subtle heat of the first less than frigid day to turn it into a melted memory that fades away as quickly, or slowly, as the weather dictates.

Scott Rella knows all about that. The founder of “Fear No Ice!” (one of four ice sculpting companies he has created) Rella has been working with the cold stuff since 1981 and has made quite an art form of it. He lives in Vail, Colorado now, but got his start in ice sculpting right here in his native New York.

Initially, Rella, who attended the New York Academy of Art, started out by sculpting more traditional materials – clay and marble. Then while he was working as a chef, a fellow chef asked if he had ever worked with ice.

“I started and that was it,” says Rella. “My first piece was at the Waldorf Astoria and they used it. It was a basket, which is always everyone’s first piece. I started getting into more challenging pieces right away.”

Within a few years, Rella had created ice sculptures in Rockefeller Center and as part of New York City’s Ice Expo, and his future as an ice sculptor was cemented.

“I never went back to marble sculpting,” he says.

But Rella is coming back to New York — this weekend, in fact, when he and sculpting partner Peter Slavin visit Sag Harbor to show off their talents at HarborFrost. Make no mistake, these guys (along with a third partner, Kevin Roscoe, who won’t be making the trip to Sag Harbor) are among the best in the world and in fact, have taken ice sculpting to a new level. Rella and his fellow ice sculptors have been in world competitions as far away as China, and have even created sculptures as part of the Olympics.

“Soon, we’ll be able to add Sag Harbor to the list,” says Rella.

Artists with a flair for the theatrical, “Fear No Ice!” is about more than just creating impressive ice sculptures, though they are masters at that. Half the fun is witnessing the sculptors in action. In fact, “Fear No Ice!” is really an ice performance troupe. Often wearing all white gear, Rella and his team offer dramatic and comedic elements as they turn huge blocks of ice into unique works of art (think Blue Man Group with chainsaws and chisels).

“The boys don’t talk – but they just do incredible stuff really quickly, in 25 minutes, and blow everyone away,” explains Rella. “People watch in total amazement.”

“None of it’s rehearsed. Every show we sculpt is different,” adds Rella. “Once we figure out what the show is and how big we are going to make it, we storyboard it on paper. But to the audience, it’s always a surprise.”

So what can audiences in Sag Harbor expect to see on Saturday?

“Peter and I are going to bring a bunch of ice, we’ll stack it up and then we’ll carve it,” explains Rella. “On one end of Main Street, we’re planning to make a throne where people can sit and get their photos taken.”

At the other end of Main Street by the Civil War monument, Rella notes the final frozen product will be a surprise.

What we do know is that the sculptures will be made of ice provided by Rella’s own company (Ice Sculpture Designs, Rella’s first firm is in Deer Park, N.Y. and is now run by his sister. It produces about 145 ice sculptures a week for weddings and other events in the area). Rella has installed special ice making machines all over the world that supply the raw material for his firms’ sculpting ventures. Rella explains that pumps in the machines circulate the water so there is no oxygen in it — a requirement for making the kind of clear ice preferred for sculpting. Each sheet weighs 300 pounds, and depending on the sculpture, preparation can involve stacking a few hundred of these sheets atop one another, or just a few.

“We create ice lounges, and we’ve done a lot of big structures,” he says.

So is there anything that Rella and his team can’t make out of ice? What is his favorite thing to sculpt these days?

“Pretty much everything’s possible,” says Rella. “I’ve been sculpting since March of ’81. It’s been 30 years. For Peter and myself, what we’re into changes and has a dozen times. There are things I would’ve never sculpted 15 years ago because I thought they were boring, or not challenging and are now interesting. Like any artist, my interests change and my focus changes.”

“From an artist’s perspective, I’m into things in public spaces now — like a series of giant ears I did along a river, or a giant shell with a spiraling wall around it that represents the past and present — millions of years ago, Colorado was under water.”

“When people say ‘That looks out of place,’ I say it really isn’t. It’s the buildings that are out of place,” explains Rella. “I’m into seducing them — getting people to ask ‘Oh, it’s five ears, why did he sculpt that?’ And I say, ‘Are you listening?’”

This Saturday, February 5, the chainsaw sculpting talents of Fear No Ice! take place at 3 p.m. on Long Wharf and at 4 p.m. at the far end of Main Street near the Civil War monument.