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Pouring the molten bronze from the crucible into the investment shell requires skillful attention and a steady hand to produce a perfect casting.

Larger Than Life

April 24, 2013
Recognizing potential Special rendering capabilities Crucible science Investment casting Finishing details

There’s an element of art in every casting, but it’s often overlooked that there is an impressive degree of technical proficiency at work in the numerous fine-art foundries. Cars and aircraft are filled with castings, but a well-crafted sculpture will capture public attention. It’s the creativity and skill of such foundries that can make the world appreciate the ingenuity of metalcasting.

Last year was Arizona’s centennial anniversary, and Ed Reilly of Bronzesmith Fine Arts Foundry and Gallery in Prescott Valley, AZ, noticed that no one in the state had created a sculpture to commemorate the event. So, Reilly took the opportunity as a project for his nonferrous art foundry.

He learned that a well-known local artist and Western historian, Bob Boze Bell, had been commissioned to create a painting for the centennial observance. When he saw the completed painting, Reilly recognized that the image of a strong pioneer woman would make an excellent sculpture, one that would be in line with many of the works his foundry had cast. He also believed it would remind people of the important role played by pioneer women in the taming the West. It was also a subject not often reflected in Western art.

“At Bronzesmith, we specialize in casting sculptures reflecting Southwestern themes. We work with Native American artists, artists creating cowboy and iconic Western images, and artists involved with transformational or anthropomorphic themes,” Reilly said. “An example of the latter would be an image of a wolf transforming into an eagle or a man into a bear — images often related to Native American folklore.

“So, the pioneer woman depicted in the painting was clearly an appropriate subject for us,” he continued. “Also, while about half of our sculpture work begins as oil-based clay or other ceramic models, the other half comes from artists who do not normally work in bronze.

“We are particularly adept at helping artists who work in two dimensional media, such as painting and illustration, as well as artists who work with wood carving, papier-mâché, and even textiles, to recreate their work as bronze sculptures,” Reilly noted.

Bronzesmith’s special rendering capabilities draw on the expertise of its in-house art staff together with its 3D digital-scanning technology. This allows the foundry to model almost any work accurately as a foam reproduction. Also, the foundry is able to scale up or scale down virtually any piece to achieve the desired size, up to 20 ft tall.

“I thought Bob’s pioneer woman image would be an excellent subject to render as a monumental sculpture,” Reilly reported. The finished work, titled “Not-So-Gentle Tamer”, will be installed at Arizona’s Prescott Valley Civic Center.

“So, with the painter’s close collaboration and the support of our local government officials, Bronzesmith artist Debbie Gessner began the task of re-creating the image in clay. This was a major undertaking as the final work would stand 10 ft tall.”

Fully dimensioned

Transforming that model into one or more bronze sculptures requires a well-equipped foundry, which is what Reilly has established at Bronzesmith.

“We melt in a gas-fired removable crucible furnace equipped with No. 150 Morgan Molten Metal Systems silicon-carbide crucible,” Reilly said.  “We begin with a charge of 500 lb of high-quality bronze ingot made up of 94% bronze, 4% silicon and 2% other metals. During melting, we use a light surface application of boron, and slag the furnace frequently to ensure we are maximizing metal cleanliness.”

He added that the crucible’s exceptionally hard and dense, non-wetting interior surface helps maintain metal purity by reducing metal penetration and resisting slag build-up.

Wearing full protective gear, metalcasters remove a MorganMMS Indux crucible filled with molten bronze from a gas-fired push-out furnace.

“After the metal is fully molten and at the desired temperature, we use an overhead shank system to lift the crucible from the furnace for pouring,” Reilly said. “This makes it particularly important that the crucible be strong and highly reliable.

“With our current crucible, we are able achieve 100 heats before replacing it, a far better service life than the crucibles we used previously,” he reported.

“We pour in air into ceramic investment casting shells mounted on a stainless steel frame,” Reilly continued. “These ceramic shells have been heated to 1,250°F (676°C) in our gas-fired kiln. Our pouring temperature is 2,150°F (1176°C) and it normally takes about six-and-a-half minutes to complete the entire pour. Our largest shell holds 150 lb (63 kg).

Large-scale works — like “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” — are cast in sections, cleaned and machined, and welded together to make the final sculpture,” Reilly said. “Smaller sculptures, such as miniatures of our piece, are cast as a single unit.”

Visitors to Bronzesmith Fine Art Foundry and Gallery will find a Southwestern style sculpture garden to showcase the bronze works.

In the process of converting a painting to a bronze sculpture, capturing the color tones of the original work is often important to preserving the character and impact of the piece as a three-dimensional object. “At Bronzesmith, we take great care to preserve each artist’s personal style, whether the work started as a traditional clay model or began as oil on canvas.” Reilly said. “In this regard, we place a high level of emphasis on our work with patina treatments. Our patina tones, colors, and textures, allow us to convey each artist’s signature look.”

Findingways to pay for public sculpture is a challenge, especially now. Few governmental bodies have public funds available at this time to pay the substantial costs associated with creating any significant bronze sculpture. So Bronzesmith, working with local government officials, set up a program to generate private contributions to fund this important arts project for the state’s centennial.

To gather the $87,000 needed to fund the project, Reilly offered to create limited edition miniature versions of “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” in bronze, and offered these to contributors supporting to the project. Individuals and businesses contributing $1,600 receive 12 in. (30.5 cm) tall bronze statuettes, and $3,200 contributors receive 24 in. (61 cm) tall bronzes. Anyone contributing $4,000 also will be recognized with his or her name inscribed in a bronze plaque placed new the sculpture once it has been installed in place.

“Half the amount of the contribution will cover the cost of the miniature and half will fund the full-size sculpture. We are working hard to ensure that full funding for our project is achieved,” Reilly explained.

Robin White is the regional sales manager for North America with Morgan Molten Metal Systems. Visit