on July 20, 2013 - 11:15 PM
Sculpting ice is Paul Strada’s sideline. Working with a chain saw, handsaw, chisel and even a conventional clothes iron, Strada carves fast, furious and is cool as the ice he is sculpting. His detailed creations have earned him medals in competitions around the world, although the meat of his business is weddings and commercial events.
Born in Buffalo’s Lovejoy neighborhood, Strada graduated from Bishop Timon High School and Buffalo State College before he started his sign business 32 years ago. Today, Strada is 55. He runs both businesses from NAS Signs on Elmwood Avenue.
People Talk: How much does a block of ice cost?
Paul Strada: A crystal clear block of ice is about $80 to $100. It weighs about 270 to 300 pounds, and it’s made just for sculpting. The average piece I sell runs from $450 to $550.
PT: Do you monitor the ice’s freezing process to guard against impurities?
PS: Well, yes, but I don’t make my own ice. The ice that I buy is high quality made from a special process so that it’s very clear. It looks like crystal with very little or no bubbles at all. Ice Is Nice is made in Wyoming County. In the old days I used to buy it from Happy Ice. The ice business is a micro industry, and bigger than you think. Most of the tools I get online.
PT: Do you ever forage for your own ice in winter?
PS: I do not, but some of the competitions provide their own lake ice. The world championships are in Fairbanks, Alaska, at the end of March every year. In Wisconsin, Alaska and in Europe they use lake ice and the blocks are much, much larger. Ottawa has a big winter festival. I won a bronze there.
PT: Tell me about your largest creation.
PS: I did a piece in Japan that was 21 blocks of ice. It was Japanese anime. We did it in Karuizawa, up in the mountains east of Tokyo. I was invited to compete. I’ve been to France, Toronto, New York. I’m a world- class competitor. I have three bronze medals. Ice sculpting is the entertainment for winter festivals, so when a ski resort wants to draw tourists they have ice and snow competitions. Once you reach a certain ranking you are invited, but you still have to submit photos and drawings to qualify because they want the best.
PT: What is your signature?
PS: I like to have some movement, lots of extension. You want to build it like it’s almost ready to fall down.
PT: Are the competitions timed events?
PS: They have one-hour competitions. They have two-hour competitions. The bronze medal I won in Ottawa was a two-hour, one-block competition. They have 36-hour competitions.
PT: Is it a competitive industry?
PS: I would say so, but some of us stand alone.
PT: What elevates your sculptures?
PS: The process that I use. The detail; how I finish it. It takes me longer now with all the years of experience to do certain things because of my technique. My initial competitions I went to learn. I watched them, their techniques, and I saw their designs.
PT: Tell me about one of your unconventional ice-carving tools.
PS: I use a household iron to smooth and for eyelashes. I use it for doing lips. There are many other tools. I use grinding tools, die grinders, chain saws, handsaws, chisels. It’s physical. I work up a sweat. It’s just like working out. One competition in Japan was 28 hours straight.
PT: Do ice sculptors have nicknames?
PS: Ice monsters. Ice heads.
PT: Do you work well under pressure?
PS: I kind of dig the spotlight.
PT: Do you remember your first block?
PS: Yeah, one of the first things I did was for one of Jim Kelly’s golf benefits. It was a rather difficult piece that I would be embarrassed to show now. It was Neptune holding a seashell. Some of the work I do I’ve done numerous times. I’ve done a thousand swans, a thousand seashells, hearts.
PT: Do you use a walk-in freezer for a studio?
PS: I do most of my carving in room temperature.
PT: How volatile is ice?
PS: It’s fragile, and the colder it is the more brittle it is. You can freeze parts together so I could make a clown and freeze a nose on if I need to make it in components.
PT: What are nightmare weather conditions to work in?
PS: Hot and humid – 80 to 90 degrees and rain. Rain melts ice immediately.
PT: Any sculpting bloopers you’d like to share?
PS: I’ve delivered swans with broken necks. I’d fix them on site. I have a little can of Freeze Spray. It’s actually a gum remover so it’s freeze in a can.
PT: Do you create ice sculptures for personal enjoyment?
PS: When the Sabres were in the Stanley Cup playoffs I made little ice Stanley Cups for everyone. Birthday numbers for some of the kids in the family.
PT: Who are your biggest customers?
PS: Salvatore’s, Buffalo Sabres. The brides. I do a lot of grand openings, anniversaries for businesses.
PT: What is the average life span of one of your creations?
PS: The average wedding piece will look good for three to six hours depending on the detail, the size and the heat and humidity. To create, it takes two to five hours.
PT: Do you look forward to each block?
PS: It’s like working out. You may not look forward to it, but once you get into it it’s always a buzz.
On the Web: Watch a video of Paul Strada at work at video.buffalonews.com