The promise of a snowstorm and more cold was good news for Dave Ruhland and the wavy-haired “Iceman” he made by freezing about 50 water balloons around 3,000 ice cubes in a stacked rainbow of yellow, orange and green.
The burst of sherbet color on the front lawn of his apartment building on a drab but busy stretch of Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda has had people slowing down as they pass and sometimes even pulling over to pose for pictures beside it.
“I try to brighten up the gloomy day as best I can,” Ruhland said.
While Ruhland makes his living in construction, painting and rehabbing apartments, for the last few winters, he has made a hobby of building “icemen” at 2719 Sheridan. His pastime – part art sculpture, part ice construction experiment – has changed his take on winter.
While lots of people are sick of the cold and snow, he’s eager for today’s promised snowstorm and another crack at icy art.
“I was probably the only one who was like, ‘Please stay colder longer,’ ” he admitted Tuesday as he surveyed his work on the snowy lawn. “The adrenaline gets going ... Before you know it, it doesn’t even bother you.”
Ruhland had not yet started to mend his “Iceman 4,” which was partially worn out by the weekend’s warm weather. After the 40-degree temperatures, only one side of his ice skin was intact.
Half of its ice-cube skeleton was exposed in appetizing layers of yellow, orangey-red and greenish-blue, like a tall snow cone of many flavors.
“It’s a pretty cool view,” he said. “That’s part of the fun, seeing how he melts.”
It had taken a week and a half of painstaking work for him to build this 7-foot-tall man.
“You’re really just wondering if it’s going to work while you’re building it,” said Ruhland, 51, a musician and a former singer in local rock bands, like 1980s-era “The Street.”
Twenty times, he went outside and filled and froze 13 ice cube trays of water dyed with food coloring. “The freezer’s too slow,” he laughed.
In 2009, he made his first Iceman from a stack of ice chunks frozen in a kitty litter box. He did it to cheer things up during the dark, gray time in January when all the holiday lights come down.
When he made another the next year, he puzzled over adding arms. A breakthrough came to him as he wandered through Walgreens. The long, skinny party balloons were just the right shape.
He froze water inside, peeled away the balloon casing and, “Bingo!” he said. “Bent ice.”
For Iceman 4, the best so far, he used the balloon-shaped “ice tubes” for the body, stacking a few ice-tube rings, filling them up with ice cubes and “welding” the sections together with squirts of water.
“It’s just like making a building, you gotta do it one floor at a time,” he said. “Most people wonder how I bend the ice. I tell them, ‘Superman bends steel, I bend ice.’ ”
With temperatures back below freezing this week, Ruhland was back at work again.
Long skinny balloons, in red, yellow and blue ,were full of water, curved into arcs and stretched out on the snow. A nearby bowl full of yellow ice was ready in case “Iceman 4” needed a new scalp for his new ice hair.
For the last three years, winters have been so warm that Ruhland had to put his Icemen on hiatus. He remembers looking out at the green grass and thinking: “This isn’t right. The Iceman shall return!”
He’s found that ice, like music, gives him a chance to do something original. “It’s a reflection of my personality,” he said.
It’s been fun to look out his front window and see strangers posing their children for pictures beside his creation.
Lately, Ruhland has been thinking it would be nice if he could get his ice career to last even longer. Is there a way to rent some freezer space, he wonders, and get people to hire him to make even more frozen art? “That’s the crazy fantasy of the Iceman-building guy,” he said, sounding happy. “Get me a freezer space, and I’d be building them for a living.”