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Ice Art sculptor and chef breaks the ice for parties, special events

Work is unique, and it is remembered, unlike costly floral arrangements

Elephants for the zoo. Flames for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. And one time not too long ago, in a smallish town near San Francisco, Pancho Villa.

In the past 22 years, Jeff DeJong has sculpted them all, making art that is at once indelible and impermanent, using the tools of his trade: chain saws, picks and chisels.

The owner of Ice Art, 210 E. Louise Ave., DeJong began his ice-sculpturing career like many in the field: as a chef. More than two decades ago, as an apprentice at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, DeJong said he started by watching the chef/sculptor.

"Basically, I swept up pieces of ice for him," DeJong said. But time passed, and his interest proved enduring, and one day he was handed the chain saw. And so it began.

The first sculpture DeJong did was for his own wedding, a piece he remembers as "ugly lovebirds on a heart." But over time, his talent emerged, and DeJong began creating sculptures for others. There were weddings and special events, corporate events and competitions.

Today, DeJong still splits his time between Ice Art and his other full-time job as chef at the Yarrow Resort in Park City. In his spare time, he does occasional demonstrations and teaches ice-carving seminars at Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley State College.

"Why?" DeJong says he's repeatedly asked, when the final product of his work is so temporary? Why stand in the cold, hacking into blocks of ice?

"I enjoy it," he said. "Every sculpture is a new challenge. People ask me if I'd ever work in other mediums, and I've done some work with wood. But I guess I just love the artistry of ice."

Ice as art? Absolutely, DeJong says. He's done 5-foot sculptures of helicopters, a dizzying array of wildlife, and for one corporate event in California, Pancho Villa.

"There is definitely a part of you that has to be an artist," DeJong said. "But also, you almost have to be an architect and an engineer, too. Because of the way you piece blocks together."

DeJong doesn't speculate on what the future holds for Ice Art. There's work enough, he said, and he's plenty busy. There's enough interest in ice sculptures to warrant the other companies that have sprung up more recently along the Wasatch Front, he said.

"People say it all the time, that ice just melts," DeJong said. "But flowers die, too. This is an art for the moment. Every piece I do is unique. All my pieces are hand-done, not with molds or anything like that.

"I've heard of people spending $10,000 on flowers for an event," he said. "If you ask people when the last time was that they saw an ice sculpture, they can tell me, and they can always tell me what the sculpture was. Ask them about what kind of flowers were used, and they hesitate. What I do is unique. It's something you don't see everywhere."