ANAHEIM : Ice Carver Is on Artistic Hot Streak


The temperature is 18 degrees. Welcome to Mark Daukas’ office.

“It’s just about perfect ice-carving weather,” said Daukas of his arctic workshop at Orange County Ice in Anaheim.

Using assorted power tools, Daukas, 35, spends up to 15 hours a day sculpting 300-pound slabs of ice into majestic sculptures. And he makes a living at it, too.


His carvings have included a 15-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, a seven-foot Empire State Building being climbed by smaller King Kong and an eight-foot saber-toothed tiger descending over rocky terrain.

Daukas, who lives in Newport Beach, recently won his sixth national ice-carving championship and with it a $2,000 first prize. He’s the only person to ever win the title, he said, and people at the annual event “find it hard to believe I’m from California.”

But because these competitions don’t pay that much, corporate work is a necessity, and that makes up 85% of his business.

He has produced sculptures for Mercedes-Benz, Ritz-Carlton, American Airlines, Paramount, Seagrams and 7-Up. Sometimes they are used at parties and they have also appeared in television commercials and print advertisements.

Using 100 slabs of ice, Daukas took a week to carve 30 hollow beer kegs, which were smashed as part of a television commercial.

Most carvings start at about $300 in cost. And they go up from there. In 1985, a local car dealership ordered a 25-foot-long carving of Santa’s sled being pulled by nine reindeer for its employee Christmas party. It cost $30,000.

“You could drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with all of the business back then,” he said. But things are different now. Daukas said people aren’t spending on ice carvings like they were when the economy was better.

This lull has allowed Daukas to sculpt in other mediums, although ice carving, despite the cold, is still his first love. In fact, when he’s working, Daukas said he doesn’t feel it. “I’m always moving, and I stay focused on my work.”

Once his pieces are complete, Daukas shuttles most carvings via his utility vehicle--license plate--ICE MSTR--insulating them in blankets or plastic bags. He retouches his work after it is set up. The larger or complex projects call for delivery by freezer truck.

In delivering his carvings, Daukas said people often wonder why he’s dressed in cold-weather gear. “You get some strange looks running around Southern California in ski pants,” he said.

Sometimes delivery is impractical, and he goes to where the customer is to do his sculptures.

In October, 1991, Daukas went to Pennsylvania to do a carving for a wedding reception. He spent a week there, doing his carving in a refrigerated truck.

“It was funny,” said Christine Daukas, who serves as operations director for her husband. “It was warmer in the truck than it was outside.”

Other conditions haven’t been as funny. A 1991 contest in Fairbanks, Alaska, saw the mercury dip to 45 degrees below zero. “I’ve had a chance to tour quite a bit,” he said. “All cold places, unfortunately.”

Daukas, a self-taught ice carver, said he started ice carving over 18 years ago, while he was working as a chef and saw another chef produce an ice carving.

Since then, Daukas has developed a flair for fantasy scenes and innovative carvings that have separated himself from the field.

Still, he must face the hardest task of all--the reality of his art form.

“If an ice sculpture has held its own for two hours, it’s done it’s job,” he said. Nevertheless, Daukas said he still gets disturbed seeing his work melt. “You never really get used to that. That’s when it hits home.” But there is a bright side, he pointed out. “(Clients) call you back. They have to.”