Lost wax is not a lost art at the Shidoni Foundry near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nestled in the Rio Tesuque Valley, among former apple orchards and majestic cottonwood tress, the Shidoni bronze art foundry is known around the world for its superb monumental bronze craftsmanship. Working artists who comprise Shidoni’s staff specialize in large scale work, as well as smaller one-of-a-kind casts and recast editions.
I had the pleasure of touring Shidoni’s 14,000 square foot facility during an autumn Colorado College reunion lead by anthropology professor emeritus Dr. Marianne Stoller. I invite you to enjoy the following photo and video blog, which document the labor intensive, multi-faceted process of lost wax bronze casting.
The final video in this post is courtesy of New Mexico PBS station KNME. This excerpted documentary demonstrates Shidoni’s innovative techniques and application of cutting edge material science during the complex process of casting metals. The video also features renown American sculptor Allan Houser, but fails to identify a woman sculptor, whom I believe is Glenna Goodacre, the well-known artist who designed the obverse of the Sacagawea dollar. I welcome your comments and correction if I’ve misidentified the interviewee.
Click to enlarge photos.
Model: large works like this use an inner foam structure to maintain the structural integrity of the clay or wax model.
Latex mold: layers of latex are applied to the full-size sculpture mold.
Mold-making: careful planning is required to determine how segments of a large sculpture will be disassembled and reconstructed.
Wax casting: the flexible latex mold is held rigid in a plaster case and is now ready for wax casting.
Wax cast: the wax cast is removed from the mold and hand-finished by a trained artisan. This step is the most critical in achieving the sculpture
Investment: The wax cast is coated with many layers of liquid refractory ceramic, called an investment. The investment cures for several days.
Burn-out: The wax cast inside the investment is fired in a kiln. This process bakes the investment shell and eliminates the wax, leaving a cavity for the bronze casting.
Patina: The finished bronze is treated with chemicals and heated with a flame. This gives the sculpture the desired color according to the artist's specifications.
With the rapid decline of railroad transportation in the early ‘80s, rail districts throughout the U.S. slid into urban decay. The rail yards and adjacent neighborhoods of Santa Fe, New Mexico were declared a blighted area in 1987, characterized by property abandonment, unemployment, crime, and barren urban landscapes.
Fast-forward twenty years and you will see the same urban geography has been redefined by a vibrant, revitalized community. The design process involved hundreds of participants: citizens, land planners, architects, and city council members. The resulting redevelopment—dubbed The Railyard Santa Fe—incorporates an eclectic mix of performing art venues, restaurants, retail, art studios and galleries, a permanent structure for Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, and 13 acres of open space including a park, plaza, and pedestrian promenade.
During my recent trip to Santa Fe, I visited The Railyard and was surprised how well the redevelopment project integrates with the surrounding urban and natural landscape. The hard-edged, rugged look of the buildings reflects the city’s intention to preserve the industrial feel of the original rail complex. The shinny corrugated metal surfaces, exposed hardware, and strong rectilinear walls unexpectedly harmonize with the prevailing adobe architecture.
The multi-use Railyard Park is a real gem, with its eco-friendly, drought-resistant garden with outdoor performance and picnic areas, playground, and walking-biking trails. Original iron rails and rusted rail car wheels are cleverly integrated into the linear walkways and gardens.
The Railyard marks its one-year anniversary this September. Enjoy my picture gallery (click on the water tower image) and let me hear your comments. For more information on The Railyard, visit www.railyardsantafe.com.