The Iceman Createth

The Iceman Createth


Dana Eng demonstrates his skills at Rock Wall Wine Company.

A bold and talented artistan crafts sculptures in an icy and fleeting medium.

You have to be gung-ho, in-the-moment creative and a risk-taker to be an ice sculptor. That it is an extreme art form becomes clear chatting with Dana Eng, who has been making his glinting multifaceted ephemeral creations since the 1970s, which is when the third-generation San Franciscan moved to Oakland.

One of the most complex works Eng, 65, has done was a chilly representation of the Golden Gate Bridge, complete with towers and suspension cables. The one-time hospitality industry trouble-shooter—who specialized in turning hotels and restaurants around—created the bridge for the 25th anniversary of the hotel school he attended. It took four ice f blocks, each 4 by 2 feet and 400 pounds; he worked his ice magic in a freezer—a rare opportunity—at the San Francisco Hilton.

Working in an about-to-disappear medium has many challenges, like melting for one, along with finding air bubble–free ice.

Eng calls himself a one-man band, doing everything from pick-up and delivery to his demos—almost exclusively for fundraisers and charities. He’s even developed his own little transport cradle on the back of his SUV to carry the ice.

Once the ice is set up, it’s a race of time versus creativity. “On a hot day the ice melts really fast, and I’m creating friction every time I put my chainsaw through it.” He chuckles when he says there’s no room for mistakes because as he works, the chances of ice chipping and fracturing increases. “So sometimes you’re shaping your design and you’re changing it to disguise what’s happening with the ice.”

The ice itself, like an unpolished diamond, is of little interest. But people are fascinated to watch him work, as he forges the reflecting facets, bouncing light everywhere.

Eng would not have gone into sculptural art had he not been a “kid of poverty,” who had to get part-time jobs beginning at age 10 to help support his family after his dad deserted them. He discovered ice sculpture via learning garde manger—the decoration of food—at hotel school. His three adult daughters have followed their iceman dad into the arts.

Contact Dana Eng for charitable event demonstrations at 510-821-1814.


This article appears in the November 2013 issue of Alameda Magazine
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