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Miss Liberty's Sister : Ice Sculptor Creates a Cool Lady

July 03, 1986|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be freezed. . . .

Something like that may be going through Mark Daukas' head at this very moment: He's spent the last seven days in a freezer at the Orange County Ice Plant in Huntington Beach, sawing, drilling and chipping a 15-foot, 1/16-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty from 2,000 pounds of ice.

The original copper and iron Miss Liberty will likely stand guard over New York's Upper Bay for another 100 years. Her little sister can only hope to beckon the huddled masses to Newport's Back Bay for a day or two at best--depending on the weather.

Daukas doesn't care.

"She won't have an arm the next day, and she won't have much of a head left," Daukas said. "But that's ice, you know."

However short-lived, Daukas' version of America's most famous statue will make her debut tonight at the Newporter Resort, before a crowd of 1,500 who have paid ticket prices of $75, or bought tables for $1,986 and $5,000, to attend the Newport Harbor Art Museum's Liberty Celebration. Also on the agenda are the live-via-satellite unveiling of the other Statue of Liberty, music, dancing and dining under the stars, a concert by the Irvine Symphony and a 15-minute fireworks display.

Earlier this week, the 29-year-old Daukas was found in the freezer, surrounded by drawings, chain saw in hand and wearing a ski hat, parka and gloves.

According to Daukas, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, carving the intricate details is not the hard part of the process. "That's a piece of cake," he said.

"It would be great if I could get a huge chunk of ice, 60 feet tall. But I can't. In the meantime, it's the engineering, planning from blocks, actually building and putting it together--that's the task." To do it, he's spent a minimum 14 hours a day on the project.

The ice company's blocks each weigh 300 pounds and measure roughly 2 by 4 by 1 feet. But Daukas feels the air bubbles trapped inside the blocks would detract from the overall effect. So he cut the blocks down into hollowed and clear, four-inch layered sections, piecing together what he needed "like a puzzle."

He laminates the see-through statue's layers together with water, taking care to disguise the edges so that "when you look at her she won't have zebra stripes." Daukas explained that the pieces must be matched well enough so that they "stick together without gaps."

A professional ice sculptor, Daukas counts the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel among his regular clients; his work has appeared in advertisements for Seagram's and 7-Up.

But he donated his work for this event, a benefit for the museum. "To do something like this would cost a corporation $7,000 or $8,000," he estimated. "The cost of the ice isn't so much. It's the time and the physical pain in the freezer," he said with a chuckle. "How much would you charge?"

Because the statue must be in place at the beginning of the celebration, Daukas collaborated with the Newporter's resident engineer to devise a special portable refrigeration unit that will circulate freezing air around the creation until its unveiling hours later.

(He worked with the same engineer last Christmas when he wanted to hang life-size ice replicas of Santa Claus and nine reindeer from the ceiling.)

Daukas, who said he's won every ice-sculpting contest he's entered in California, dreams of going to the Culinary Olympics, which are held every four years in Frankfurt. Somewhat paradoxically, he would also like to see ice sculpture lifted out of the realm of a culinary-related craft.

"Ice is a unique medium," Daukas reflected. "I want to take it a step beyond the buffet.

"I'd like to do a one-day art show, enjoy it for the few hours it lasts. They had a fund-raising party at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, for instance, with nothing in there but bare walls. They had me do six pieces of contemporary art. I took the designs from the structure of the building, I made up several of my own. They put them around the party, and it worked. They loved it."

As is the case with many performance artists, Daukas is interested in having the unveiling recorded; he hopes somebody will take a good photograph. Either way, he entertains no notions of working in a medium less ephemeral than ice.

"Melting is what's neat about it," he said.

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