A couple of weeks ago I got an invitation to an exclusive event at art gallery Steylart. In celebration of their collaboration with gallery Majke Husstege it opened its doors to their bronze foundry to showcase an exclusive live bronze casting.
Art gallery Steylart exhibits artworks that are produced in their bronze foundry. The gallery is situated in Waardenburg, the south of the Netherlands.
So here’s what I’ve learned about the process
First of all, a clay sculpture has to be made. The sculpture can be of any size, though when the artist is going to create a large sculpture material like armature is used to support the weight of the clay. The armature can be seen as the skeleton of the sculpture.
Once the clay sculpture is finished it has to be prepared for the moulding. This procedure includes touching up details and smoothing the surface of the clay. This will eventually save work on the finished bronze casting.
So now the clay sculpture is finished a mould will be made of it. This is done by applying several layers of a special rubber mixture. In order to thoroughly dry, each layer will need about a day. The mould usually consists of three to five layers. The duration of the process takes several days. Once a mould is obtained, a wax is made of it. Bigger sculptures are usually hollow. To make a hollow sculpture, a core is cast into the void and is, after the wax melting, retained in its proper location by pins. The wax will then be sprued, a process that creates a channel system which will feed the molten metal to all of the areas of the sculpture.
Once the spruing is finished, the wax is ready for the shelling process. During the ceramic shell process, a series of wax dipping’s into a slurry takes place to create a hard shell. This shell, once dry, will become hard enough to receive, hold and shape the molten metal to produce the bronze figure.
And now the part where it gets extremely hot!
When the ceramic shell is hard it will be placed in a high pressure oven to melt out all the wax. To do so temperatures of over a 1000 degrees Celsius have to be reached. Now a detailed impression is left within the shell which can be filled with the molten bronze. Before the bronze can get poured it has to get melted. The melting of bronze takes place when it gets heated to a temperature of approximately 1200 degrees Celsius.
Once the bronze is liquid the foundry workers carefully lift the crucible, containing the liquid, out of the heating furnace. To protect themselves from the extreme heats the workers must wear protective face shields and a heat resistant outfit that covers their entire body.
The foundry workers have to move quickly and precisely when pouring the bronze into each awaiting ceramic shell. As you can imagine this is quite a heavy job which makes it very impressive to watch!
Once the ceramic shells are filled with the bronze, they are left to cool. The process of the cooling depends on the size of the shell.
After it has cooled down, the ceramic shell is carefully broken off, leaving the bronze metal sculpture. At this stage the bronze will need some finishing touches to make it smooth, this can either be done by the bronze workers or the artist.
Here’s a visual explanation of the process:
I can say that it was truly an amazing experience to witness a live bronze casting. The incredible temperatures that these guys have to work with, and the precision and the strength it takes to work with these materials. It takes true craftsmanship to create such a statue!
Curious for more bronze art works? Visit the famous statue garden of the Kröller-Müller Museum. In the sculpture garden, one of the largest in Europe, you can enjoy both sculptures and nature. Distributed throughout the garden are over 160 sculptures by iconic artists, from Auguste Rodin to Henry Moore and from Jean Dubuffet to Joep van Lieshout.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday between 10:00 and 17:00