Thursday, March 25, 2010

Observing A Pour

The female voicee in our GPS device announced that we had arrived at our destination.

A second look at the adobe wall along a street of small businesses in Prescott Valley (AZ) revealed that, indeed, we had reached the designated address, but it took a third look to see the small square sign:


Behind the bare wall was a modern, inviting courtyard with several bronze sculptures on display.

We were a bit early for our scheduled tour of the foundry, so we took time to look at some of the sculptures in the courtyard.

Unfortunately, I don't know the names of the artists whose works are on display. Soon after we concluded our walk in the courtyard, we began our tour of the foundry.

Bronzesmith began in a small garage in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Brothers Ed and Billy Reilly started the journey to improve the techniques necessary to produce high quality sculpture in the Western Art market.

Because the process is so fascinating, Bronzesmith had the vision to also include a gallery on the premises and schedule tours of the facility to educate art collectors.

(I have a difficult time understanding the process of casting a bronze sculpture as it is explained by an artist. If I could see the steps in the process, I could grasp the process more easily. So, with that qualifier in mind, we continue. . . .)

First the artist creates an original sculpture out of any number of media, including stone, wax, clay, wood and pottery. This image is coated with a silicone rubber molding material that makes two rubber mold halves (each rubber mold has a front and a back piece). A fiberglass outer shell is added to the back of each mold so it retains its shape and rigidity during subsequent uses.

Once the molds are done, the insides are coated with layers of wax. Once the wax has cooled, the mold is peeled away, yielding a wax image (the wax "positive") duplicating the original sculpture.

The next step, "gating", is the application of a series of tubes and funnels that allow the molten bronze to flow through to the bottom of the ceramic shell and the hot gases to escape at the same time.

These sprus are created by attaching wax rods to the finished wax form at strategically spaced locations.

After the gating is completed each wax form is dipped in a liquid ceramic silica-sand compound so it is completely coated inside and out.

Following a couple additional steps, bronze ingots are melted to a temperature of approximately 2000°F and the molten bronze is poured into the cured ceramic shells.

We observed the pour through a screen, so the photograph on the right and below may appear a bit "grainy." Three men in fireproof(?) suits conducted the carefully orchestrated sequence. Two men used a device to lift the container of molten bronze and pour the bronze into eight pieces on the racks. The third man specifies the order of the pour and covers each piece as the pour is completed.

The casting is then sandblasted in preparation for metal finishing. Any pieces of a sculpture that were cast separately are welded back onto the sculpture and any seam lines or other imperfections are removed. This work is done in the back of this space (right)--one of the four other work areas.

The sculpture is then polished in preparation for application of the patina, the different colored finishes that are possible on cast bronze sculptures.

The various colors, patterns and textures obtained in the patina process are achieved through a combined application of chemicals and heat, augmented by hand stippling, or spraying with an air brush, and sealed with lacquer and waxes.

The team at Bronzesmith can also take the artist's relatively small sculpture, such as that on the left, and produce a larger finished bronze sculpture (below).

Among the nearly three dozen artists who work with the Bronzesmith team is Oreland Joe, whose nine-foot-tall Code Talker Monument was cast at the Prescott facility before moving to Window Rock, AZ.

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