FARGO - If you've driven down Main Avenue in Fargo this January, you may have seen a lone man with an American flag bandana leaning over a 3-by-3 foot block of ice. If the light happened to be red, then you may have observed the mysterious bandana-wearing man expertly shearing off chunks of ice, creating an intricate sculpture.
"There's something romantic about creating this beautiful piece in ice because nothing lasts forever," says 33-year-old artist Dave Belling.
Belling's art didn't always melt away by the second. He first thought he invented chainsaw sculpting when he was 15 years old while working at his family's logging business.
"I saw a log and I thought 'I'm going to carve that into a German shepherd,' " Belling remembers with a laugh. "In the end it looked more like a gargoyle, but it was a start."
Throughout his teenage years and subsequently six years as a Marine (he served in Afghanistan and as a marksmanship instructor on a base in South Carolina), he carved both large and small wood pieces as a hobby. Eventually he even built himself a log cabin near Eerie, N.D., before moving to Williston to accept a job in the public works department.
But his longing to work with his hands and create something out of nothing was too much to resist. After three short years, he left his job with the city and instead choose to team with his friend Bruce at his business, Bruce's Tree Service.
That's when he gained attention for "sculpting with his chainsaw" in the front yard. He was even asked to give dead and dying trees new life in Hammon Park.
"I just love that I get to make a new thing out of something that may be just fading away," he says.
Belling worked with his then-girlfriend to procure, crave and seal each wood sculpture.
"Sadly, we unexpectedly broke up, and I was heartbroken," he says. "All summer long, I called myself a gypsy chainsaw artist. I really did just that and drifted from place to place."
This winter Belling has fallen in love with ice's fragile impermanence.
"Wood is so much work. You have to get the logs and dry them. After carving them, you have clean up all the mess," he explains. "You even have to have a warm environment to sell them in, and then they crack anyways."
One day while surveying the frozen landscape, he decided to try ice sculpting.
"I looked up buying ice and found some links but not anything really solid," he says. "Then my cousin called and said I should visit him at White Bear Lake (in Minnesota)."
The lake by his family's property froze uniquely this winter.
"The way the lake froze you could just see straight down, so we just kind of thought, 'let's try to cut some slabs of it,'" Belling says.
Belling and his cousin went online and looked up how to harvest ice. With a tractor, Belling pulled out the heavy ice slab onto the banks before cutting it up into manageable 3-by-3 feet blocks. Then he brought what he could back to Fargo in back of his pickup.
Once he had the blocks of ice, he started to sculpt whatever came to mind in parking lots or wherever there was open space.
"Ice is really what inspired me this winter - that and heartbreak and all the roadblocks I've experienced," he says.
While he pursues a business management degree at Minnesota Community and Technical College and spends time with his 6-year-old daughter Evelyn and his pitbull mix Artie, Belling says he wants to create a live art scene during the winters.
"I think people would really get into an ice sculpture garden," he says.
In an attempt to promote this idea Belling secretively "froze" certain sculptures in front of businesses like the intricate Native American aiming at a buffalo statue on Broadway, a life-like four-leaf clover in front of Dempsey's or the staunch raven perched in the courtyard of the Red Raven Espresso Parlor.
"I don't expect these sculptures to stay long," Belling says. "But that's what I love about it."
Although his sculptures may disappear when spring arrives, Belling says his new love of ice will continue to grow.
"When the summer comes maybe I'll have to find a way to get into a freezer and keep doing it for weddings and events," he says.
Those interested in following the artist can find his "Chainsaw Dave" group on Facebook.
"I sometimes ask for ideas from the group and usually post a video and photo of whatever I'm working on," he says.