Creating a Bronze Sculpture

Sculptor’s Corner – bronze casting It has been suggested that there may be a way to lower the cost of making the life size bronze statues for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. They are very expensive ranging from $75,000.00 to over $100,000.00 each. I thought it might be helpful to talk about the process that leads to the cost of each statue:
It may not be understood that these are one-of-a-kind works of art made in the tradition of famous museum pieces and other public bronze monuments. They are each made especially for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park in Prairie du Chien, to illustrate the history and prehistory of this area. These statues are not mass produced decorative garden pieces. Each one requires its own separate production process starting with the inspiration of the artist. The whole process takes from 6 to 8 months for each statue. The techniques and tools are similar to ones used for bronze statues of all ages. Each bronze statue will last for thousands of years. Following is a brief outline of the work involved (not including the years of ongoing historical research):

  1. Artist modeling of the original figure about ¼ life size. This is made with fine plasteline clay over sculptor’s armature wire, using special modeling tools.
  2. Production mold made at the art foundry.A special rubber mold, backed by plaster, of the original artist’s model.
  3. Hard copy taken from the production mold.this is usually plaster or resin. It may also be wax for casting a small bronze sculpture.
  4. Shipping hard copy to the enlarging company.currently in California)
  5. Enlarging the figure. The hard copy of the small figure is scanned and enlarged to life size by computer. The enlarged figure is laser cut out of extruded Styrofoam.
  6. Life size Styrofoam figure is cut in pieces, packed and shipped back to the artist’s studio.
  7. The artist reassembles the life size foam figure and covers it with plasteline clay for the final sculpting process.
  8. Final sculpting process by the artist. This is when the detailing of the portrait and character of the figure is completed.
  9. Final life size clay model is returned to the foundry.
  10. At the foundry the figure is sectioned off for piece molds.
  11. Each piece mold is painted inside with sculpture wax. There is a special wax for this purpose. The final wax impression is about ¾ inch thick.
  12. The wax impression is removed from each of the piece molds and attached to wax stilts called sprues. The sprues, in turn, are attached to a baseboard.
  13. Wax pieces on sprues are dipped in ceramic slurry. The wax is dipped and dried several times to ensure an even coating.
  14. Slurry coated wax pieces are placed into a kiln. The wax melts leaving the ceramic mold hollow.
  15. Bronze is melted in a crucible in the furnace.The bronze is melted to about 2,100 degrees f. while the wax is being melted in the kiln.
  16. The clean hot ceramic molds are removed from the kiln and placed upside down in a bed of sand.
  17. The molten bronze is poured into the ceramic molds. The crucible is lifted by special tongs and placed into the pouring bar.
  18. The crucible containing the melted bronze is lifted and carried to the ceramic molds in the bed of sand.
  19. Melted bronze is poured into the ceramic molds.
  20. Ceramic molds are removed from the bronze pieces.
  21. Bronze pieces are sand blasted to remove fire scale.
  22. Bronze pieces are trimmed and welded together to assemble the figure.
  23. The bronze figure is polished and detailed.
  24. Patina is applied to the finished figure.This is a spray with different chemicals used for color.
  25. The finished sculpture is shipped to the Mississippi River Sculpture Park.
This is a complicated process involving several people working many hours, days and weeks. There are also the costs of materials and tools, utilities and overhead. Bronze, for instance, goes up in cost every year. There is the added cost of shipping and insurance and the bronze nameplate installed by the statue. I use Vanguard Sculpture services in Milwaukee. I find it is the best art bronze foundry in the area.
To pay for the sculptures it takes many people contributing small amounts and/or one person or organization contributing one large amount. Most often it is a combination of both of these. The whole process of making and installing a statue takes money, time and effort by many people. It is good to remember that they will stand in place for many generations to come.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions about the making of these statues.
Florence Bird, Artist

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