This past fall my friend Dean Kugler participated in a juried exhibition at The Buchanan Center For The Arts in Monmouth, Illinois. Dean's work was awarded two different awards by the juror, Lonnie Stewart. It's no surprise Dean cleaned up at the show. Just check out his work by going to see his website by clicking this link: http://www.deankugler.com/.
A little time later Lonnie invited Dean and I to come down and visit his studio spaces and see some of his work. Brace yourself, what you are about to see is nothing short of uh-MAZE-ing!
Lonnie showed us several of his Plasticine models that were used to pull molds of off so they could be cast in bronze. I'm pretty sure the next few pieces had already had molds made of them, and were just sitting around in the studio, because, you know, why not.
This next one is gonna blow your mind. Here is a beer stein that Lonnie sculpted for Friedrichshafen in Germany. Friedrichshafen is the sister city of Peoria, Illinois. This is the Plasticine sculpture that would ultimately be cast in bronze.
Check out the amazing detail in this piece.
My apologies for the photo quality, but hopefully you get the idea.
No, really, check out the detail. This piece is stunning.
Please keep the last five images in your mind, because I want to show you something.........
...........Just scroll down.............
......trust me, it's worth it...........
.........BOOOOM! This how big that stein actually is. Standing next to it is one of Lonnie's studio assistants, Kevin Gray. He is a regular-sized human, it's the stein that is ginormous. The piece cannot be cast in one pouring, it had to be divided into several smaller castings and brazed together after being cast. In addition to assisting Lonnie with his studio endeavors, Kevin is also an accomplished drummer/teacher check out his Facebook page by clicking https://www.facebook.com/graymatterdrums/.
The swan is part of the handle of the stein.....
....and tucked under the table was the ornate lid.
This is a smaller model of the stein.
Behind the large stein, just kinda hanging out on the wall, was a picture Lonnie painted for Sturgis back in the day.
Next we toured the foundry where Lonnie gets his pieces turned into molds and poured in metal.
These are all different molds used to create a bronze casting.
Lonnie showing us some of the molds for his wild turkey you saw three images prior to this one.
A closer look at of the molds for one of Lonnie's dragons (I'm gonna talk about the dragons in a little bit, so just hang on) which was beginning production while we were there touring the facility.
How all this works is, Lonnie sculpts the piece initially out of Plasticine (an oil-based clay which doesn't dry out). The Plasticine is covered with a thin protective coating (because the sulfur content in the Plasticine will destroy the rubber mold). Once that is completed, a rubber mold/cast is made of the piece in order to capture all of the details, shapes, finger prints, and nuances from the artist. For large pieces (let's say the stein I showed you earlier), the original piece must be cast in 20, or more, smaller sections. Each one of those rubber molds then has liquid wax poured into it to fill in all of the nooks and crannies to capture all of the original 'information' of the initial sculpture. Below you see the wax body-portion of the wild turkey.
Then the wax casting is removed from the rubber mold so it can eventually get 'burned out'. The next step is each wax casting will get a whole series/network of wax sprues attached to it. The sprues allow molten metal to flow in to the mold and gasses to escape. If there is not a escape passage for gases trapped inside a mold, the gases will prevent the metal from filling the mold and you will have an incomplete casting. An incomplete casting means you have to start over at the wax mold stage. Do not pass 'GO'. Do not collect $200.
Once the network of sprues is added, each wax section gets dipped repeatedly in a coating which once it dries, will be placed inside a kiln. The kiln gets fired which will burn out the wax AND make coating nice and strong.
This is a picture of Kyle Chipman explaining the whole process to Dean Kugler. We were at Kyle's place The Hot Scotsman Foundry, here is a link to the Facebook page for the foundry: https://www.facebook.com/HotScotsmen/.
To say that Kyle knows his stuff is an understatement.
Kyle shows us the furnace where he melts the metal (bronze in this case). In the foreground is the crucible where the metal ingots/scrap metal is placed before it is set inside the furnace. Get that sucker up to around 1750-1800 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have molten metal. Kyle's crucible can handle up to 200lbs. of metal per casting. It takes two people in protective gear (fire suits) to lift the crucible out of the furnace (with the giant lifting tongs seen in the middle ground).
Lonnie inspecting the wings.
The wax model of the shield for the male dragon.......wait, dragon? Just keep reading.......
After we toured the foundry, Lonnie took us to another space in which he was making some dragons.
Just like the beer stein, Lonnie has to make the dragons out of clay first and then cast them at the foundry.
So Dean and I went back recently for another visit. Here are a couple of images helping create the 'undertail' portion of the dragon's tail out of wire and foam. Plasticine will cover the foam armature and be sculpted to look just like everything else. The whole rest of the dragon's body has been cast and poured, all that is left is to make the molds of the tail, cast them and braze them together.
Here is a shot of Dean shaping the tail.
This shot is just to showcase how robusto the dragon is. Ro-Bust-O!
Remember just a few lines ago when I mentioned something about casting the dragons? Well guess what......we just caught up with Lonnie and Kyle while they were putting the patina on the completely cast dragons.
It's a heat-based patina (meaning you have to apply heat to the piece to increase its temperature for the patina to behave properly on the surface.). It's hot and hard work that is not great on your lungs.
A detail shot of how the patina looks on the shield carried by the male dragon.