By Ben Strack
In the days after snow flurries from the year’s first big winter storm relented last week, cars passing Marty Bevilacqua’s North Village Avenue home slowed down, their brake lights a warning, not of hazard but of art.
The meticulously crafted faces and bodies of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore appeared from a mountain of snow, the perfectly white sculpture safe from the browning slush that had formed just yards away on the curb and street. Passersby enjoyed the view.
“… When the snow starts we always look out for Marty,” said next-door neighbor Jodi Shimkin. “He puts this mound together and then he’s out there all hours working on it.”
In the early evening on Jan. 4, Bevilacqua, 58, spent three hours creating the snow pile, letting the fluffy accumulation clump together overnight before spending another five hours the next morning sculpting the scene. The latest creation is one of dozens he has made since moving to Rockville Centre 30 years ago.
“I don’t know why I do it,” he said at first, before sharing his motivation. “When my boys were little, they helped me do it … so now I do it to keep one of my son’s memory alive a little bit.”
Bevilacqua’s son Mark, who died in a motorcycle accident on Sunrise Highway in 2015 at age 20, loved bears, he noted. “If you go into his room, he has a bear rug, bear blanket, big statues of bears,” he said.
In addition to Winnie the Pooh, Bevilacqua has morphed snow into teddy bears, polar bears and bears climbing a tree in memory of Mark. He even recreated a scene from the movie “The Brave Little Toaster,” which his son found especially poignant. Bevilacqua pulled up a video he had made on his basement desktop that included the movie clip, where a flower sees its reflection in the toaster, mistaking it for another flower. It is drawn to the reflection, longing for it, but the toaster leaves, and the flower wilts.
“It struck him because it’s like finding yourself, finding your self-worth and not putting your value in anyone else’s eyes,” Bevilacqua said. “…You find it [internally].” Mark got a tattoo of the wilted flower on his arm, and Bevilacqua’s other son, Matthew, 27, got a similar tattoo in memory of Mark, which reads, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not.”
Bevilacqua, owner of Oceanville Mason Supply on Long Beach Road, began sculpting snow while living in Brooklyn in the mid-1980s. His small house in Bergen Beach had driveways on both sides, he said, with older adults living next door. As a contractor, he often didn’t work when it snowed, and would shovel his driveway and those of his neighbors, having no choice but to pile the snow in the 20-by-20-foot plot in front of his house.
Shortly after returning from a trip to Egypt with his wife, Susan, the first snowfall of that winter came, and when he created his usual pile, he said it resembled a sphinx. He was inspired to sculpt the mythical creature, moving on to snowmen that looked like actual people.
He moved to Rockville Centre in 1987, down the street from Floyd B. Watson Elementary School, and continued the hobby. “All the school buses would be passing by; it gave me a perfect audience,” he said. “ … The drivers, they know. They actually come, and they stop purposely.”
Over the years, Bevilacqua has created more than bears. His masterpieces range from sculptures depicting that year’s Super Bowl teams to an eight-foot-tall SpongeBob SquarePants. Disney’s beloved Nemo occupied his lawn — when a winter storm in 2013 shared the name of the clownfish — as did the Abominable Snowman from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Shimkin’s daughter, Chloe, excitedly recalled the time Marty created Miley Cyrus sitting on a wrecking ball.
Bevilacqua does love-themed sculptures around Valentine’s Day, and if there’s snow in March, a clover or leprechaun often makes an appearance. “When the snow comes down, I think about what’s going on that day, that week,” he explained. He adds color to many of the snow sculptures using fluorescent spray paint.
“We love watching what he creates because he’s so talented,” Shimkin said. “As it melts, he’ll come up with something new.”
Indeed Bevilacqua said he often changes the sculpture into something else. An Olympic torch became a snow cone one year, for example, and a giant teddy bear was changed into Shrek, who sported a neon-green face. A polar bear standing on its hind legs was transformed into the iconic figure on an Academy Award.
“They’re always impressive,” said Paul Clancy, who has lived across the street from Bevilacqua for the past two years. “The amount of time he puts into it and the end result is always incredible. I have friends in the neighborhood that have kids, and they always tell me they love driving by our house because they get to drive by that house and see the works of art.”
Bevilacqua, who also helps produce operas at Molloy College’s Madison Theatre, created an online gallery of photos and videos showcasing his creations over the years. It includes a video of people getting out of their cars to take photos with his large teddy bear before it became Shrek, which he had captured from his home’s security camera. One of the visits came at 2:30 a.m.
The video, accompanied by a recording of a love song Mark had written when he was 15 for a girl he liked, is called “One Thing More.”
What will the current work of art on his lawn become as winter rolls on?
“That’s something that I don’t know yet,” Bevilacqua said. “It depends on what happens in the world.”
To see more of Bevilacqua’s sculptures visit his online gallery at http://bit.ly/2D6NMSA.