Constable: This Wood Dale sculptor warms up with some ice

  • In the 55-degree environs of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park, owner Dan Rebholz turns a 300-pound block of ice into the likeness of the Super Bowl trophy for a private party.

      In the 55-degree environs of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park, owner Dan Rebholz turns a 300-pound block of ice into the likeness of the Super Bowl trophy for a private party. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Wednesday's cold is far from the worst seen by Dan Rebholz., owner of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park. The winner of last month's National Ice Carver Association championship, Rebholz often spends long days carving in temperatures well below zero.

      Wednesday's cold is far from the worst seen by Dan Rebholz., owner of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park. The winner of last month's National Ice Carver Association championship, Rebholz often spends long days carving in temperatures well below zero. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Wednesday's record cold isn't enough to make Dan Rebholz of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park don a coat for quick outside chores. The veteran ice carver often works long hours in temperatures below zero during competitions.

      Wednesday's record cold isn't enough to make Dan Rebholz of World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park don a coat for quick outside chores. The veteran ice carver often works long hours in temperatures below zero during competitions. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/31/2019 5:30 AM

If the 50-degrees-below-zero wind chill outside Wednesday has Dan Rebholz feeling a little chilly, he can always duck inside his walk-in freezer to warm up.

"It's usually 18 degrees," says a coatless Rebholz, 51, as he shuns the relative warmth of his freezer and rolls up his sleeves to put the finishing touches on his ice sculpture of the Super Bowl trophy outside in a temperature of 20 degrees below zero. Most of the carving for this $375 piece for a private party was done inside his World Class Ice Sculpture business in Villa Park, where the temperature is a balmy 55 degrees.

 

"There are room- temperature carvers and freezer-carvers, and I'm a room-temperature carver," says Rebholz, who lives in Wood Dale. But he's carved in hundreds of outside competitions, festivals and demonstrations when he has had to work in conditions far worse than anything the suburbs can offer. In Fairbanks, Alaska, he carved outside when the temperature was minus 48.

"Two years ago, I was there for a week and it was 30 below zero every day. I was outside eight hours at a crack carving ice," Rebholz says, noting that was a time when he needed his boots made for 100 degrees below zero. "It was a world championship, so it is what it is."

Last month, Rebholz won the National Ice Carving Championship in Perrysburg, Ohio, by carving a child flying a kite and a scene with Spider-Man leaping between buildings. He works as a judge at some events but still enjoys competing.

Last month, ice sculptor Dan Rebholz of Wood Dale carved this Spider-Man on his way to win the National Ice Carving Championship in Perrysburg, Ohio.
Last month, ice sculptor Dan Rebholz of Wood Dale carved this Spider-Man on his way to win the National Ice Carving Championship in Perrysburg, Ohio. - Courtesy of Dan Rebholz
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"I stopped counting at 100, but I've won more ice-carving competitions than anyone else on the planet," says Rebholz, who quickly adds that he's been carving since 1985 and the ice-carving fraternity is shrinking faster than the ice caps. "I know every ice carver in the world, pretty much."

In 1994, he was carving a figure skater for a competition in a temperature of minus 20 degrees in Madison, Wisconsin, when the organizers made him stop. "You won!" they told him. "Everybody else quit. Come on in."

Only once did he fail to prepare for Arctic temperatures and got a touch of frostbite. "Now I know when it's below zero because my thumbs hurt," he says.

Rolling up his sleeves in Wednesday's minus 20 degrees, ice carver Dan Rebholz uses a blow torch to put a finishing sheen on his Super Bowl trophy carved out of ice at World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park.
  Rolling up his sleeves in Wednesday's minus 20 degrees, ice carver Dan Rebholz uses a blow torch to put a finishing sheen on his Super Bowl trophy carved out of ice at World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For outside carving, Rebholz ditches his thin, cotton, jersey work gloves and wears waterproof, acrylic thermal-lined gloves favored by crab fishermen. "When it gets cold, I just slip a hand-warmer in there and I'm good to go," he says.

People don't realize how quickly a person can go from comfy to frostbitten, he says.

"One time, I was walking with a buddy wearing a baseball cap. It wasn't that cold, maybe 25 below," Rebholz says. "Five minutes into the walk, the back of his ears were as white as a china cup."

A few more minutes and they would have turned black. "Then you could come up behind him and snap his ear off like a potato chip," Rebholz says.

Growing up in Bensenville and attending Fenton High School, Rebholz loved art but figured he'd become a chef. He studied at Joliet Junior College and worked as a professional chef at hotels in Oak Brook, but he found a way to use his art ability by making ice carvings to go with the food. He worked for another ice carver before starting World Class Ice Sculpture, where he makes pieces for Super Bowl parties, birthday parties, restaurants, corporate events and trade shows. He hopes to land a gig carving sculptures for a cake-baking show on the Food Network next month.

On the coldest day of the year, Dan Rebholz throws a pan of boiling water into the air, where it instantly freezes. Rebholz owns World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park, where he carves works of art out of ice.
  On the coldest day of the year, Dan Rebholz throws a pan of boiling water into the air, where it instantly freezes. Rebholz owns World Class Ice Sculpture in Villa Park, where he carves works of art out of ice. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

He wields an electric chain saw for most of his carving, but he uses sanders, routers and other woodworking tools for the detail work. His sons, Michael, 10, and Mason, 5, "both have had chain saws and chisels in their hands," Rebholz says.

He draws his design on a plastic sheet, enlarges the image with an overhead projector and traces it onto brown paper, which he fastens to a 300-pound block of ice. Then he starts carving, no matter how cold it is.

"Ice doesn't like cold, either," Rebholz says, noting that he uses a syringe to carefully add water, which acts as glue when the conditions are right, and will crack the ice if the temperature difference between the water and the ice is too great. "That game 'Don't Break The Ice,' I'm a world champion at that, because if I break the ice, I don't get paid."

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