Tacoma artist creates ice sculptures for cold-weather Super Bowl

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2014 

— Ice chips soared and chainsaws roared at the Okamoto Studio in Long Island City.

Owned by Shintaro Okamoto, the small, garage-like studio is located several subway stops from Manhattan over the East River.

This place isn’t immune to the Super Bowl XLVIII preparations going on in the New York-New Jersey region leading up to Sunday’s game. And longtime Seattle Seahawks fan Jeremy Mangan of Tacoma is caught in the middle, with frozen fingers to prove it.

Mangan, a painter who works at Tacoma Art Museum, flew to the Big Apple last week. He’s helping full-time craftsmen at the studio carve hundreds of ice sculptures for Super Bowl-related events, including ones commissioned by the NFL.

“Honestly, a lot of times, I don’t know where (the carvings) are going,” Mangan said Wednesday. “Especially when we are this busy, it all runs together.”

How busy? Monday and Tuesday Mangan worked a combined 27 hours and was expecting to clock a 12-hour day on Wednesday.

Mangan and three other full-time carvers landed the gig after the studio won a national competition in November. Think of it as nailing an audition.

Designs for the carvings were pinned on a cork board in the studio Wednesday, with red check marks on the ones that had been finished.

Some of those include 5-foot-tall football helmets with Seahawks and Broncos logos, a replica of the New York City skyline – including the Empire State Building – and a 6-by-14-foot carving of the Roman numerals “XLVIII.” They will be combined to create a roughly 180-foot-long ice wall at the entrance to MetLife Stadium on game day.

Mangan met Okamoto – who co-founded the studio with his late father Takeo – in graduate school at Hunter College, where Mangan studied painting. He started helping out in the studio until Okamoto asked if he wanted to try out carving.

That sparked the fire to work with ice.

It wasn’t as difficult as one would think for a paint-brush wielding artist to manipulate a chainsaw with grace and precision, he said.

“What we’ve learned is it’s really about a drawing sensibility,” Mangan said.

Full-time carver and New York City resident Thomas Brown agreed. He said designing the sculptures involves a lot of technical skill, including a ton of math to get the dimensions just right. He was on-site Wednesday sketching more buildings for the cityscape portion of the MetLife Stadium display.

“It’s a lot like carpentry,” Brown said.

Mangan said he has done about 50 Super Bowl carvings so far, all of which vary in size. His favorite ones were 6-foot-tall, life-size football players.

“The big stuff’s really fun to carve,” he said.

Mangan said he likely won’t attend the game. Although he is hoping to get the chance to watch the Seahawks in person, he said, he is just happy to be a part of the game in some way.

In the meantime, Mangan will be up bright and early Thursday, Friday, Saturday and even before the game on Sunday to chip away at more 300-pound blocks of ice.

Kari Plog
kari.plog@thenewstribune.com
@KariPlog

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