DULUTH, MINN. -- Engelbert Hattenberger found himself penniless when he returned to Austria after World War II. The German marks he had saved as a young man were worthless after Germany lost the war.
Hattenberger also found himself unemployed. He was a sculptor of metal and wood, but those materials were rare and expensive after the war.
As a last resort, Hattenberger took snow and water and began to sculpt ice.
"Snow was very cheap," said Hattenberger, who was building an ice sculpture at Duluth's Civic Center recently. "It's simple. God sent the snow. I made something of it."
What was used in desperation became Hattenberger's trademark through the years. The gray-haired man with wire-rim glasses has gained fame for turning cold, lifeless blocks of ice into warm, living figures.
"All life must stop in ice but I wake it up," the German-speaking Hattenberger said through a translator.
Hattenberger, 67, began his career by making a sculpture of Joseph Stalin in a square near his home in Linz, Austria. The next sculpture he made was of a woman. An Italian artist saw the nude figure and told Hattenberger he had the potential to be a great sculptor.
So Hattenberger pursued his career. He opened a metal shop in Linz and continued to form snow sculptures. He traveled throughout Europe and the United States, gaining recognition from crowds, cameras and colleagues.
"I can't afford to advertise," he said. "But every year, I get more famous. Television and newspaper articles, they have become my advertising."
Hattenberger has sculpted hundreds of metal figures, including a viking that stands above the fireplace at Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wis. He considers himself retired but continues to work 10-hour days sculpting ice.
This is Hattenberger's third year sculpting in Duluth; he planned to finish a globe and an eagle over the weekend. He keeps an eye on the project through the window of his room at the Radisson Hotel Duluth.
Different-colored lights will shine through the ice of the globe, outlining each continent, and an eagle will fly above it, he said.
When Hattenberger talks about eis (ice in German), he speaks in the abstract. Each of his ice sculptures is part of the joy he brings people. The more people who see his work, the more the joy comes back to him.
When the sun melts his sculpture, Hattenberger isn't sad that his work will not live for posterity.
"You have to accept that," he said. "And that's hard for some artists. But as long as I have a picture of it before it melts, I'm not upset."
Working with ice is much more difficult than working with metal or wood, he said. Ice can't be pounded or bent; it must be chiseled and formed, piece by piece, from the bottom to the top.
Hattenberger molds the ice with his bare hands, no matter how cold it is outside.
"I guess I'm used to it," he said. "I must have good circulation."
Hattenberger plans to go to Cable in a few weeks to build a sculpture for the American Birkebeiner ski race Feb. 20. The exact design for the sculpture won't be decided until he starts chiseling, but he said it probably will be a sculpture of a family skiing.
Skiing is one of Hattenberger's greatest loves. When he's not sculpting, he's cross-country skiing or walking in the mountains surrounding his home. He's also an astrology buff and keeps track of his biorhythms every day.
"Today is a deep, soulful day for me," he said with a grin. "I am regenerating."