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The Creation and Lost Wax Process

Joseph’s bronze sculptures are created by a method known as the “lost wax process.” Though the exact origins of the lost wax process are unknown, it is believed to have been first used between 1100 and 1700 BC to produce precise replicas in metal from the artisans hand made original. All of us are constantly in touch with the lost wax process in our everyday lives, from the mechanical parts of the automobiles we drive, the industrial parts on the aircraft we fly, the fine jewelry we wear, and even the dental work in our mouths.

For Joseph, the first step is the creation of the original sculpture in clay, wax, wood or another medium. This is the only step that is done once and it involves weeks or months of research before and during the sculpting process to produce the finished product. To research his subject, Joseph relies on 30 years of experience and a vast library of research materials, which range from children’s books, National Geographic magazines, Scientific drawings and papers as well as photographs he has collected over the years from friends and others. Joseph has also adventured with many of the creatures he sculpts.

When Joseph is finished with the original, he takes it to his mold maker so he can produce his sculptures in a limited edition. Historically, wax originals were originally modeled by hand, and this is still done often in fine jewelry. Many of Joseph’s first jewelry designs were originals or originals that were highlighted and reworked. Over the last 60 years or so, synthetic rubbers have been developed which capture very fine detail needed to reproduce the exact characteristics of the artists creation. Nowadays it is possible to cast wax into these rubber molds so that multiple copies of the original may be produced. After “sizing up” the artwork, the mold maker creates a pliable rubber mold, formulated with urethane elastomers to best suit the original. This process can take days or even weeks depending on the size of the original artwork. Molten wax, heated to approximately 225 degrees is then poured into the rubber mold to produce an exact replica of the original. Waxes can be poured solid or hollow, usually depending on the size of the artwork. When cool, the wax casting is carefully removed from the mold. The artist or his artisans then spend several hours with the wax working by hand to reproduce all the details of the original. Every step of the process so far is of extreme importance to make sure the replicas meet the quality Joseph expects.

Now the wax casting is attached to a "pour-cup", a funnel that looks like a small space capsule, which will eventually channel molten metal into the mold from the outside. Rods of wax called “gates” (in sculpture) or “sprues” (in jewelry) are then attached to the original to help in the metal flow and to release gases when molten metal is finally poured into the mold.

Once the wax casting is set up with its gates, it is then dipped repeatedly over a period of a week or so in liquid ceramic slurry. The wet slurry fills all of the detailed areas of the wax casting. Each day, the casting is dipped into the wet slurry and a special aggregate is applied. This is repeated, using coarser aggregate on each day until the shell around the wax has reached a sufficient thickness to hold together through the burn-out process and the pouring of molten metal. Once it is completely dry, the ceramic shell is fired in a burnout kiln and slowly heated to approximately 1200 degrees, baking the ceramic mold and melting out the wax casting and creating a void, hence the term “lost wax”.

Molten bronze is then poured into the hollow ceramic shell, filling the space with liquid bronze. The ceramic shell now holds the bronze as it cools, just waiting a bit longer for the birth of a sculpture. When cold, the ceramic shell is carefully broken away, revealing the bronze. The bronze is then sandblasted to remove the smallest bits of ceramic and to reveal any imperfections that will need to be addressed by the metal workers. Most sculptures are cast in several pieces that need to be precisely welded together to match the original. Once the pieces are welded together, hours of chasing, welding and other metal work are performed to recapture the sensitivity and detail of the original wax model.

At this point, the metal sculpture is ready for the patina, which gives the bronze life. Many of the colors Joseph chooses, he created himself while working at American Fine Arts Studio over twenty years ago. The colors of the patinas can be made from chemicals, a combination of several chemicals or water based dyes called “paintinas”. Joseph prefers paintinas because they have less impact on the environment. Before the patina can be applied, the bronze is heated in a kiln, then colorful dyes are sprayed or brushed on to produce the desired effects. A fine wax or lacquer is then applied to the sculpture to seal the color and prepare the work for display.

As a note, Joseph’s sculptures are made entirely in the United States of America, California to be exact. California has the strictest regulations in the foundry industry. Everything is regulated, from wax emissions and sandblasting, to the chemicals used in the patinas. Many other artists cast their work in other countries that do not have the regulations to protect our environment, such as Mexico and China. Joseph would like you to “Do Your Part” for the environment and ask where an artwork you are interested in is produced. Make sure it is “completely” produced in the U.S. to assure the best quality for the environment. You may be surprised where your favorite artist casts his or her work!

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