Ice shavings were flying on Thursday morning as Shintaro Okamoto took a chain saw to a rectangular slab of ice and whittled it down to a crystalline figure.
The sculptor, who owns Okamoto Studio in Long Island City, was busy preparing three ice designs for the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Winter Jam in Central Park on Saturday — a squirrel, the NYC Parks logo and a snowflake, which is the event’s logo.
Unlike many offices, his studio is filled with power tools, a walk-in freezer and slush along walls. It’s kept cold to stop the ice from melting, and the employees don coats, hats and gloves.
Okamoto, with shavings in his hair, cut away excess pieces of ice and chiseled fur, eyes and ears into it to create the squirrel, which measured about 3 feet high.
The fun pieces, which took a little less than an hour to complete, will be the focal point of an arctic golf game on Saturday.
Winter Jam is a free winter sports festival where New Yorkers can learn how to ski and snowshoe, sled, play arctic golf and watch one of Okamoto Studio’s artists, Thomas Brown, sculpt live. His design is a surprise, but you can expect to see ice fly with the touch of a chain saw, according to William Morrison, a spokesman for the parks department.
“We’ll see a great craftmaster in action,” he said. “It’s really more of an art.”
Last year, the studio created frozen models of the Empire State Building, the parks department logo and an evergreen tree.
Okamoto has done a vast amount of sculptures for restaurants (ice plates and beer mugs), fundraisers, film, corporate events, weddings and mitzvahs, as well as public art pieces. Some of them have even been over 20 feet tall.
Okamoto started his artist collective in 2003 and has a background in the craft. After moving from Japan to Anchorage, Alaska, when he was a boy, he learned how to sculpt and grew his skills at Brown University and Hunter College Arts.
“Not all Alaskans play with ice, but I did,” he said,
To see his work and the live sculpt, check out Winter Jam from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.