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Special Design Issue

The Iceman Cometh

Sculptor Mark Daukas' Frozen Creations Thaw the Room

November 10, 2002|Barbara Thornburg

Party planners and hostesses in the know ask Mark Daukas to bring the ice. An ice sculptor, Daukas has been chipping away at the meltable medium since he worked as a cook at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Tennis Club 25 years ago. "One of the chefs there taught me what he knew," says the sculptor. "There were no schools--you learned from others and by experimenting."

After a year and a half of making ice sculptures for Sunday brunches and special events, he opened his own ice-sculpting business, Mark Daukas Designs in Costa Mesa. And when he learned that the kit of Japanese chisels he needed for sophisticated carving ran upward of $5,000, he decided to invent his own. Transforming die grinders, right-angle grinders and Dremel tools commonly used in metal and woodworking into ice-specific tools, he pioneered new methods in the frozen art form. A much-copied technique for making graphics by cutting out a cavity and filling it with packed snow is known in the ice biz as the Daukas Snowfill technique. Lately, an encased-relief technique akin to etching glass has caught his fascination. "I cut open an ice block and sculpt the inside--it's like carving backward. Then I put it back together," says Daukas. "That's the hard part."

The first American to win the prestigious world championship of ice carving in Asahikawa, Japan, and six-time national champion, Daukas' portfolio showcases numerous cool creations. The largest piece he recalls: two 20-by-40-foot clashing T-rexes at an ice carnival in Pennsylvania. "You could walk through an archway between them," Daukas says. "It took 30 workers to construct and another week to carve the 1,000 blocks of ice" that weighed 300 pounds each.

One of the most requested pieces is his colorful ice bar with luges. The piece weighs in at about 350 pounds; he first designs it on his computer and then carves one block at a time, assembling the piece like a large puzzle in his 15-by-20-foot walk-in freezer. The bar sits atop a special drip tray/lighting pedestal he devised to light the ice as well as capture water as it melts. The luge, named after the racing sled on which a rider lies face up while sliding down an icy chute, sits atop the bar. Spirits are poured into a chilled bottle, encased upside down in the ice with its base drilled out, to end up in a guest's waiting glass. Bars last up to 12 hours, depending on the temperature conditions.

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Resource Guide

Page 26: Hugo Boss suit, available from a selection at Hugo Boss, Beverly Hills, (310) 859-2888, with Prada shirt, $325, at Prada. Roberto Cavalli dress, $4,000, at Neiman Marcus; Swarovski earrings from a selection at the Swarovski Gallery Store, Los Angeles, (323) 463-5200. Ice bar with two luges and custom graphics, $4,500, at Mark Daukas Designs, Costa Mesa, (949) 597-9311; 350-pound block of ice, $50, at The Iceman, Bellflower, (562) 633-4423. Page 27: Aluminum trivet, $125, at Gearys of Beverly Hills.

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