Paul Wertin's "Arches" turns Vail into a wonderland of light and ice tonight

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A tribute to ice, snow and light, Paul Wertin's temporary sculpture "Arches" opens tonight at the seventh annual Triumph Winterfest in Vail, when it will be illuminated with LED lights at dusk. Wertin began carving the icy structure from 120 blocks of ice earlier this month, creating a seventy-foot long serpentine ice wall that reaches seven feet in height in some places and is graced with three arches.

See also: Chill! Breckenridge opens ice castle

"There are three arches -- I grew up surfing in California and there was an arch rock near the spot where I went to surf and I went to it all the time," says Wertin of his inspiration. "We were trying to do a flowing, running wall -- inspired by Christo's 'Running Fence' -- and the thought process was around making something that was taking up some space and moving down the line and kind of flowing down the hill."

The illumination, too, is a key element of the sculpture's finished look. With LED lights running through the wall and arches and some parts controlled remotely, the structure will become a full-on production once lit. "The wall sort of turns into a bit of a canvas for a light show," says Wertin. "As you shine light up through the bottom of the ice, it really carries and diffuses into a nice glow."

"Arches" is the second installation of the winter season for Vail's annual Triumph Winterfest; it was preceded by "Logan Luminescence," a piece by Thomas Barlow made of seventy cylindrical ice lanterns in varying sizes that opened last month. Both of these projects are supported by Vail's Art in Public Places, a program that works in conjunction with funding from development company Triumph Partners as well as a major donation from part-time Vail residents Vicki and Kent Logan. "For three years, (Triumph Partners) had a financial obligation in promoting some sort of aspect of public art along with their development," says AIPP's Molly Eppard. "What they decided was, rather than having something that is steadfast and near the property they were building, they wanted to contribute to a temporary event in the winter, highlighting snow, ice and light as the mediums. That's really how Triumph Winterfest evolved. Three years of it was funded by their obligatory funding, but now this will be the fourth year of completely charitable funding. They were so pleased with it after three years that they wanted to continue funding the snow, ice and light exhibition for Vail. Kent and Vicki Logan are also private residents in Vail and two years ago, they decided to match Triumph's charitable funding -- so that's why we've been able to expand it over the past two years."

You won't see typical ice sculptures at Winterfest; a call for artists goes out every year, and AIPP has a careful selection process. "The board was looking more for abstract concepts -- so it's not the literal interpretation of, you know, your typical ice sculptures of a nutcracker or a swan," says Eppard. "We were really looking for artists who looked outside of the box from your normal, everyday ice sculpture. Paul really knocked it out of the park with this one."

You can see "Arches" now at Gore Creek Promenade in Vail Village; the grand illumination will be tonight at dusk (around 5 or 5:30 p.m.). The structure will be lit up every evening at dusk for the next few weeks, and it will remain in place until -- well, until it melts. For more information, visit the town of Vail's website.

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