Chips fly as Michael Blaine toils in the blazingly hot sun. The result: a mother bear and her two cubs, with more carving to come.
The Akron Zoo is the latest home of Blaine’s reduction sculptures — wood carvings fashioned with a chain saw.
Blaine, a Pocono Pines, Pa., resident, has spent almost a week carving the three bears out of red oak at the entrance to the zoo’s newest exhibit, Grizzly Ridge, which will open July 20.
The $12 million exhibit, one of the largest openings in the zoo’s history, will include six animal species, including grizzly bears, red wolves and coyotes on almost 4 acres.
All of the animal species are (or were) native to this area.
With grizzly bears a linchpin of the new exhibit, the zoo called on Blaine, 54, to carve the 8-foot-tall mother and her cubs out of a zoo tree that had to be taken down for safety reasons.
The power carver, a four-time International Extreme Power Carving champion, has fashioned everything from dragons to team mascots to Paul Bunyan and native Americans throughout Northeast Ohio.
A perennial favorite is bears, of which he has carved thousands, said Blaine, who operates Dream Wood Workshop with his wife, Aya, who also is a power carver.
The zoo commission was unusually challenging, given the high humidity and heat that has blanketed the area in recent days.
For Blaine, working for hours in the sun, the conditions are “the worst,” he said Wednesday.
He should know: He took his first power woodcarving class at 13 and has been a professional power woodcarver since 1989.
Sometimes the weather his derailed his power carving at the zoo, which was sealed from the public with a chain-link fence.
“What comes out of the chain saw just stands there,” he said of the hills of wood chips that lay at his feet. “There was no breeze [Tuesday].”
Today and Friday he will complete two more commissions for the Akron Zoo: He will carve an eagle and a raccoon that will be positioned on a log over the entrance to the new exhibit.