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ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 8; Bronze

The Alchemist Sculpture Foundry in Kalamazoo Michigan is owned by Brent and Brett. These guys really know the business of bronze casting and can do it all. I will show you the process with lots of pics. 
If you want to know more watch the Utube video listed at the end of this article. I chose the video because of the narrator's cool accent. He sounds so enlightened and artsy!
Here's Brent showing a rubber mold. This is the first step in the casting process. The rubber mold is applied to the original sculpture and it is called the 'mother mold' which means it is the original and can be reused to make more of the same sculpture.

 The hot wax is poured into the rubber mother mold and after it hardens the rubber shell is removed and saved. The wax is then examined before proceeding. Brent and Brett show the wax image after the mother mold cast is removed.

I worked on the wax to make sure the image was exactly right before the next step. I added and subtracted wax as needed. The sculpture was cut into 5 different pieces.
 Next the wax pieces are dipped in liquid glass. This is a ceramic mixture that coats the wax in several layers. It is dried and then baked in a kiln to a hard impervious finish. The lost wax method is what it is called because the wax melts away leaving just the ceramic mold.
 Brett shows a piece that is ready for the bronze pour. This is from a different sculpture. A styrofoam cup is attached to the wax and covered in ceramic also. You can see it at the top of this piece. That is where the molten bronze is poured.

This is the Crucible. The place where the bronze is heated up to 2000 degrees (I think….really hot anyway!!) Brett is holding a brick of bronze.
 After the bronze is poured and cooled off the ceramic shell is broken off. Sandblasting is used to clean the ceramic out of detail areas and to polish the bronze.
The pieces are then welded together and polished so the entire sculpture looks seamless. You can't see where the sculpture was cut apart. Brent is using chemicals and fire to burn the patina into a small  bronze sculpture that he designed.
Here is the finished sculpture, Rain, at the Alchemist Sculpture Foundry. Notice the different coloring that Brent used for the leaf, the skin and the hair. (you might notice this photograph is spliced because I made a mistake setting the camera)
That is it and now this sculpture, Rain, stands forever at the entrance of Mary Free Bed Hospital. Whew! What a job. I'm glad that one is done! Thanks to all the people that helped out with this project. See Chapter 4. I think there were over 20 of you. Next I'll post some new photos of Rain on site by Bob Pearson. We are waiting for the weather to clear a bit because there's over 2 feet of snow on the ground now.
Here is a Utube video that shows the bronze casting process. Enjoy!

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 7; Finishing

ArtPrize Finishing Touches

This was it. Done. Now the sculpture could be secured in place.  ArtPrize was starting in just a few days. What would people think about this piece of art? Would they like it or hate it? Would they praise it or laugh at it?

Too late now to worry. This is the risk that artists take; to put ourselves out there and let the critique begin.

What a relief to be done but what a lot of work was ahead with all of the promotion for ArtPrize. There were lots of events and promotions set in place by Mary Free Bed and now I was committed. Ann helped with the organization and we worked together to promote "Rain" and seek out votes.

We loaded it up in my truck and lined up a bunch of people to help install it. Here's me with the head grounds keeper at Mary Free Bed.

Narumi came to help with the installation. And below is Ann and John helping out.

Anyone who signs up at ArtPrize can vote on each ArtPrize entry. It's free for viewers and you can vote for every single piece either up or down. The winners are determined by the number of up votes and the down votes are stimulus for conversation. Would it work? No one knew.

We do know now that ArtPrize was a huge success because of the public response. There were hundreds of thousands that came out for this event. And anytime you mention the word ArtPrize to anyone a conversation will commence for the next 15 minutes.

Finding a buyer was my main objective and a difficult one. Winning some of the prize for ArtPrize was Ann's objective (even more difficult) but because of her enthusiasm many people at Mary Free Bed started talking about purchasing the sculpture so they could keep it on exhibit.  See a photo and short article about it on my website.
When the dust cleared and ArtPrize 2009 was over The Mary Free Bed Guild started a fund to purchase a bronze version of 'Rain'.

We drew up a contract and scheduled the sculpture to be bronzed in Kalamazoo at the Alchemists Sculpture Foundry. I'll show you the results next. The coloring is much richer than the original shown above.

Art School #5: The Painter Lady

My mother gave me every opportunity to express myself through painting. She was the driving force behind most new opportunities that came my way.

"Anna, do you want to paint your bedroom? You can choose the color." That meant if my bedroom survived the paint job I would have the privilege of painting the rest of the house!

"Anna, there's a lady painting a new house down the street. If you go there right now you can watch her paint." That meant the lady was expecting me and was ready to teach me everything she knew about house painting.

"Anna, Mrs. McKay needs a painter and she will pay you. " That meant I got my first real paint job and earned real money.

That really was an experience. I had no equipment of my own so relied on Mrs. McKay to provide all the tools. There was no extension pole, something that every professional painter uses to paint a ceiling. I had no idea what that was anyway. I just dug in and climbed the ladder with roller in hand.

The bed was not to be moved and, of course, we couldn't put the ladder on top of the bed. The only solution for me was to stand on the bed and bounce up and down while swiping the roller across the ceiling on every up bounce. If only I could freeze like one of those photos with everyone jumping. I would have given anything for wings but my method worked….eventually. I remember Mrs. McKay standing in the doorway, wringing her hands, worried and questioning, "maybe we should have someone come and move the bed?"

I assured her that everything would turn out fine and it did. Thanks, Mom, for all of the references and encouragement along the way. I learned early that contracting paint jobs paid better than minimum wage. My career as a house painter began early and laid the foundation for a successful decorative painting company, called AK Donahue Design.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 6; Sanding Dust

Have you ever used a Dremel?  This is the coolest little rotary tool and it made the sanding workable. The entire sculpture from head to toe needed sanding and it was hard to work with all of the detail. Just think how intricate a fingernail is when manicuring. Standard sanding equipment just wouldn't work for this project.

Usually a soft and pliable media that can be subtracted or added to like modeling clay is used for a sculptures on this scale. The clay is used because it is fairly cheap and very workable. Once the original is finished it is sent off to the foundry where the bronze casting takes place. Because of ArtPrize I did not have that luxury. My sculpture would be outdoors on exhibit for 3 weeks in the unpredictable Michigan climate. That is why I chose to use the urethane plastic compound called Shell Shock.

Constrained in some ways but learning a lot as I went, the process was finally nearing the end. The urethane plastic was hard and impervious to the Michigan moisture and I knew this was the only way to go. The sanding commenced.

The Dremel tool made it easy to sand out the detail and even 'Rain's' teeth needed work. I felt like a dentist with his fine little drill buzzing away. The only painful thing for me was the headgear I needed to wear. The sanded plastic was fine and powdery and was dangerous to breath in. I had to use a painters spray painting mask complete with a double filtering system. It almost covered my entire head. I sanded for about a week and looked forward to the day when I could start painting the ugly gray shell. She would come alive with the reflective bronze coloring.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 5; The Goop

This was nothing I had ever seen or worked with before; liquid plastic. It didn't smell but it was gooey awful stuff and hard to manage. Shell-Shock is what it is called and it dries hard in just a few minutes and becomes very hard and brittle over time.

Small amounts are mixed in disposable cups and applied with a brush or stick. The brushes will harden after about 15 minutes so many disposable and cheap brushes and small paint sticks are needed. It can be poured and that is what I did to make the casts.

There is another type of goop that is more fun to work with. It's called Body Double and is less toxic and like rubber. It's a two part mix as well and is applied directly to the skin to create a mask or mold. It dries fast to a flexible rubbery substance. 

Then a coat of medical plaster and gauze is applied to make a form that hardens over the rubber. The plaster will serve as a support for the rubber mold and help it to keep the shape when the liquid plastic is poured into the mold.

Once the cast was completed you could see the fine detail in the fingers. The mold turned out beautifully and Emily's arms and hands looked just like her.

The entire sculpture needed to be completely covered with the goop. This is what would make it impervious to moisture and the outdoor elements. After applying about an 1/8 inch over the entire surface the sanding began.

5.Drums and Generators

The sun was set and it was almost dark when we arrived at our new home. Tim knew the place well because he had already lived there for two years. It was hot and the windows were down so we could hear the drums in the distance.  How odd that was; here we were on the Indian reservation and there were drums just like in an old western movie.   

Don and Nona Perrault were the sentries and saw to all of the daily details at Immanuel Mission. As we got out of the car Nona trotted up with a serious but friendly smile. She was short and wiry and looked like she could fight a bear. Their trailer was near the entrance and right next to the well. In the morning you would see Nona running out to greet the steady stream of pick up trucks that came with their empty 55 gallon drums. Wells were scarce because they had to be drilled over 500 feet to get to a good water supply. Some were as deep as one or two thousand feet.

Nona commented on the drums right away, "Yei-bi-chai", is all she said.  Tim explained later about how the Navajos have a ceremony to call on the spirits to protect their children before they send them off to school.

Tim asked her why it was so quiet. I didn't know that he was referring to the generator. Normally the drums would not be heard above the steady hum of the only power source for the mission compound. Nona motioned towards Don as he strode up with a wrench in his hand. 

Don was short and stout and always friendly. He also always seemed to have a wrench in his hand which reminded everyone about his duty as the master of the generator. He built it and knew every nut and bolt and it was his job to keep it running. The generator would have to wait for morning now.

We got the key and headed towards our new home. It was a deluxe trailer that once traveled across the country as a high end vacation tool. Exactly 8 feet wide and 30 feet long, the interior was finished  in birch veneer and the multitude of cabinets and cubby holes meant everything was automatically organized.

At the end of the trailer was the one bedroom with a window facing directly at the campsite where the Yei-bi-chai was happening. There was light from a huge fire that lit up the colorfully dressed people. There were people walking around in the shadows too and small children darting in and out. The outline of many pickup trucks faded in the background. I wanted to get a close up look and see this spectacle but everything was in miniature since the campsite was so far away. They were in another world and I felt like I was reading the National Geographic live. I fell asleep that first night with the sound of the drums echoing in my dreams.

I woke up to the sound of eggs crackling on the stove. "Tim was cooking? Hmmmm," I thought that was my job.  There were no drums.  Looking southwest was the beautiful earthy red rock, Tsetse-uh standing straight up towards the sky. The flat table top basking in the sun. To the west was the campsite, the Navajo's homestead where we heard the drums. All of the trucks were gone except one.

A mounded adobe hut, a hogan,  sat in the center with some other small wood buildings surrounding it. Two women slowly carried a gigantic tub across the yard and began to tip it over the fire pit. Smoke clouded up and engulfed the scene.  A dog and three small children ran through the smoke, barking and hollering and laughing.

There were no other people around. The women disappeared into the hogan followed by the children. 

Suddenly there was a loud noise in the distance, a muffled roar that didn't stop. It was the generator. There were no power lines leading to the mission but there were lines leading to the generator. I would get used to the noise and if it stopped it was like a breath of fresh air for an instant and then worry that something was wrong. As long as the pulsing motor drummed away we knew our refrigerators would keep running and our lights would stay on.


ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 4; Help!

I only had one month to work on this sculpture. My venue was established and there was just enough money saved to pay for all of the materials. But there was only one month to the deadline when the artwork would be unveiled: a realistic/impressionistic, life sized sculpture of a young woman standing. How was this going to happen? Where would I get the energy, the skill, the guts to get it done?

I prayed, Ann prayed and I am sure there were others praying too. Over 20 people came to my rescue during the 30 days. I had no idea it would take this much effort to accomplish the goal.

2 Assistant artists: Ann Bjorlie and Miriel Williams assisted in making the casts and applying the 'goop'.
(more on 'goop' later)

3 Photographers: Robert Pearson who does wonderful nature photography and Kathy and Jenifer
Barton, sisters who work together and do beautiful action shots.

2 Consultants: Paul Evans is an all around nice guy artist who knows a lot about structure using plastics and metal and Brian from Michigan Foam who was a great connection for info on materials and equipment.


2 Public Relations Coordinators: Meg Duhrer and Darci Luykt from Mary Free Bed helped with mailing and scheduling special events.

3 Models: Emily Donahue was the primary model and gets all the credit but Danni Donahue, my daughter-in-law stopped by one day and agreed to model for awhile. Ruthie Garcia also helped out a lot because Emily decided not to have her face cast and Ruthie who had no idea what she was getting into stepped in.

2 Cooks: Mrs. Barton who brought the best burritos ever and my husband, Tim,  who can always be counted on for fast food delivery.

8 brawny men to move the sculpture and place it in the exhibit location at Mary Free Bed. At least 4 guys from the staff at Mary Free Bed helped along with my brother John Bjorlie.
Curt Veenstra and two of his sons helped to install the final bronze sculpture after ArtPrize was over.

Now I was really stuck. There was no way I could back out of this corner and the days were clicking by.  The foam was not working out and I had to insert an armature to hold the whole thing together. The armature should have been built before I even started but now I was working backwards.

I figured out a way to stabilize the structure with Paul Evan's help  but I would have to rely on castings for the hands, feet and face because of the foam. This was challenging and fun. The garage door was always open because the September weather was beautiful. 

Now it was time for the 'goop'.

Art School #4: No Making Ashtrays in Ceramics Class

  Seventh grade art class was a mandatory class. Everyone had to take this class. I was in heaven -  an entire hour dedicated to nothing but art every single day! 

  Mrs. Byberg was good at teaching this class. She wasn't the kind of art teacher to reach for your paint brush and show you 'how it's done'. She never stood behind you and peered over your shoulder and made weird noises. 

  This was art, not crafts. We heard lectures on the masters and saw photographs of famous works of art. Then we learned the fundamentals of drawing and painting. 'Learn by doing' was Mrs. Byberg's motto.  

  The only rule I remember hearing was, "no making ashtrays in ceramics class." She gave very pointed instructions which everyone followed. It was dangerous not to because there were chemicals and other questionable substances around. But creativity was never discouraged.

  After seventh grade there was no more art class until Junior year when it was offered as an elective.  I would miss the art room with its random collection of supplies and its fresh paint smells. For the next three years I daydreamed during school as usual but I wasn't challenged to put those dreams on paper until my brother and I had private lessons.

  Our mother saw this gift, this talent that we possessed. My brother John was especially gifted and everyone knew it. He was known as a natural born artist from an early age and not just because he could draw like crazy. Many people thought he was crazy. One of his elementary teachers for example thought he was retarded and wanted to flunk him. My mother marched into the principles office and insisted on having him tested. This was quite an unusual circumstance because in the 60's no one ever heard of A.D.D. or dislexia or any other learning disorder. If there were problems in school you were either stupid or lazy. 

  John wasn't stupid because he scored in the genious percentile on that test. He wasn't lazy because he was very active as a school yard athlete. And he could draw like crazy. So it wasn't long before mom introduced us to 'private art lessons'.

The lessons were at the teachers home. Kitchen table art was what it was. There was a single rose in a vase in the middle of the table. She presented us with water color paper that was stiff and thick and we began to draw with special drawing pencils. Then the india ink came out with old fashioned quills. This was different and fun. We drew over the pencil with the ink and then rubbed out the graphite with gum erasers.

Another step added color to our drawings which now became paintings. Water color filled in between the lines and shaded the petals of the flower.

I loved the process and wanted to continue with these classes forever. John impressed the teacher who proclaimed him a gifted protege. We came back for more and more until the teacher moved away.

4. Touching the Clouds

We turned off the pavement onto sand. You could see where the road grader had smoothed the red earthy surface and it was very smooth except for the washboard rivets. Our car was sailing along on a bed that sat below the surrounding flat land. The roads weren't built up here with gravel and pavement. They were carved into the landscape and when they got too deep the road grader moved over and cut a fresh path in the sandy terrain. This was the high dessert in northern Arizona and the road into Navajoland.

I peered over the dashboard to see a herd of horses with one lonely rider. I wanted to get a closer look at them. They were multi-colored and all sizes but as we drove nearer the rider backed away from the road as if to say, "keep your distance."

Low shrubbery and tufts of grass dotted the scene. The horizon was sculpted with two or three mesas at all times. You could see only one in every direction except for East where the mountain range sat.

Clouds like puffy cotton balls rested in the bright turquoise sky. I felt I could reach up and touch them if I wanted to.

The 14 mile drive to Immanuel Mission took about 45 minutes. We saw only one other vehicle on the road ahead of us. We kept our distance because of the cloud of dust it kicked up. The truck veered off to the left eventually. There were lots of smaller roads that y'ed off the main road. The only real intersection was at the junction for Sweet Water, a small town that wasn't really a town but a trading post with a bunch of old satellite dishes in a fenced yard.

The mission was hidden behind a long gray rock formation that created a cliff. The road curved around and sloped down to the main entrance where a marker stood with a sign reading Immanuel Mission, est. 1924.  Off to the east the cliff rose up gradually to the plateau where we had just been.  It seemed like the end of the trail but the road meandered on through the dessert towards the west and a stately red mesa called Tsetse-uh (pronounced sessa-uh). Tsetse means rock in Navajo and maybe all mesas have that name to them but this was Immanuel Mission's Tsetse-uh. After that there was another mesa and the road continued on and eventually lead to many more.

We were home now. This is where we would make our new life together. Tim taught kindergarten to 10 little 4 and 5 year olds and I found paper and pencils and began to draw.