Passion is the word that sculptor Bruce Lindsay uses to describe his connection to creating bronze sculptures through the ancient process of lost-wax casting.
The sculptor will demonstrate the source of that passion when he conducts classes in lost-wax at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton on three consecutive Saturdays: May 31, June 7, and June 14.
The sessions complement the recently opened “Seward Johnson: The Retrospective” that features numerous sculptures created by Johnson in the lost-wax process.
“The advantage of the process is that it provides a very accurate translation of forms into bronze. We can even translate fiber and fingerprint textures. That degree of realism is very important to (Johnson’s) work,” says Lindsay.
A former intern and manager with the Grounds For Sculpture-based Johnson Atelier and longtime teacher of lost-wax casting, Lindsay has an understanding of both the process and the art of Steward Johnson.
In his newly acquired business studio and living space on Allen Street in downtown Trenton, Lindsay talks about the classes — designed for adults — and the art that he creates and has exhibited at Grounds For Sculpture, Montclair Art Museum, Trenton City Museum, Audubon Artists in New York City, and elsewhere. His works are also in various public art collections.
“We start with a model in any material: wood, plaster, stone, and clay. From that original model we create a rubber mold. We’re translating from positive to negative,” he says of the first class.
The goal for the next session, he says, will be “to create a waxed cast from the mold. That cast will resemble the original pattern in every detail. Then we are ready to work on the next step. It’s the second negative. It’s plaster based and known as solid investment. Once (the plaster) is built up over the wax, we move to the bake-out stage. Molds are set into a kiln and fired to approximately 1,000 degrees for about 24 hours. The application of the heat will liquefy the wax, which will then drip out of the mold and dry all the moisture out of the plaster mold.” While in the past the melted wax was lost or discarded — hence the name of the process — Lindsay recycles it.
On the final Saturday “we pour the molten metal into the plaster molds. The bronze is approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the metal is allowed to cool. In about 30 minutes, it’s stable, and we can start divesting,” he says, referring to removing the plaster mold.
After “chasing,” or using chisels and other tools to correct or reapply forms, the participants may have the opportunity to move to the typical finishing stage, patina. That is “the application of color through the use of heat and a variety of chemical solutions,” Lindsay says. “Typical colors for bronze castings are browns, gold, and greens. At the end of the workshops each person will have an original work in cast bronze.”
Lindsay, born in 1961, says that he was introduced to the lost-wax process at Bucknell University by sculptor and professor William Lasansky. “I was an English literature major, and for one of my electives I got involved with a studio art course. Mr. Lasansky was producing his work in the lost-wax process. It lit a spark in me. I found it fascinating and decided to pursue it. This is an example of a good liberal arts education: that you can be exposed other fields and realms and to find something with a passion that you want to pursue. I think my mother wanted me to go into law, but that didn’t work out.”
His connection to the process comes from knowing himself. “First, I like working with my hands. This process is tactile and labor-intensive. Second, I have a fascinationwith the transformation from one form to another. It’s an important facet of the art work I am creating. Then there’s a certain appeal to the process because seeing a bronze pour is a spectacle. The molten metal is beautiful. It’s a treat to watch. There is a lot of sensory information around the pour,” says Lindsay.
The beauty, however, only comes through a labor-intensive process. “To get from your original pattern to the finished casting you have to go through a number of steps. It’s arduous. You have to be really committed. Time is one element. The other potential difficulty is the cost of creating these objects. The variety of materials and the energy costs — including the propane — adds up.”
Lindsay attributes his sense of beauty in part to interacting with natural forces and shapes when he surf-fished for bluefish and striped bass during family vacations to Nantucket — a few hours from the Boxford, Massachusetts, home where he lived with his General Electric career man father and stay-at-home mother.
In 1985 Lindsay found his way to the Johnson Atelier. “I had done my own casting and built my foundry equipment, but I recognized that I had a lot to learn. I joined (the atelier’s) apprenticeship program, which had just moved to the site in Hamilton,” he says.
The apprenticeship helped both professionally and artistically. “We could use the facility after hours. We had to pay for our materials, but we had access to the state-of-the-art equipment. Before the reorganization (that closed the foundry component of the atelier) it allowed lot of young artists to evolve and create a portfolio of their own,” he says.
Lindsay’s approach to creating is fluid. He has a personal vision, yet he is open to working with friends, community members, and clients.
“I consciously made an attempt to find a means of expression in sculpture that was unique. As a young emerging artist it is important to differentiate yourself from the pack,” he says of his own work. “The term I use is biomorphic abstract. It looks like something from nature, but you cannot figure it out. I may have forms that may remind one of different natural forms. I have a piece of that type at GFS called ‘Between Essence and Existence.’ It’s a rounded soft form set on a large stone base. It may remind one of certain forms from the human body, a certain sea shell, or remind one of an embryonic form — which was part of my intent.”
He also makes life-size cast bronze figurative sculptures that are allegorical representations of concepts drawn from Tibetan Buddhism.
Explaining the connection of “Between Essence and Existence” to Jean-Paul Sartre’s summation that “existence precedes essence” and Tibetan images, Lindsay says, “My interest in existentialism dates back to my years as an undergrad. My interest in Buddhism and such developed later for me. My spirituality is more closely aligned to Tibetan Buddhism than any other practice.”
He also works with others. “I see commission work as a particular type of trial to create work that meets the expectation of the client,” he says. Commission work is site-specific and has to function visually and meet technical needs. That’s the goal, he says: “to design work that takes those factors into account.”
“The most significant work that I was commissioned to date was the United War Dogs Memorial,” says Lindsay. That public art work is adjacent to the New Jersey Vietnam Memorial in Holmdel. “I got involved through a neighbor (at his former home in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania) who introduced me to a group of men who were dog handlers in Vietnam. The group was Untied States War Dogs Association. They told me their stories and informed me about ways that dogs were involved in Vietnam. They told me of their hopes to create a monument that would honor these dogs and help tell their stories.
Their stories were very compelling. Dogs were used for sentry duty and to lead patrols. Typically a dog and handler would be out in front (of a patrol). The dog was trained to detect threats. If the dog detected something, it would stop and look in the direction of the threat, and its hair would stand up. Then the handler would signal back to the troops. These dogs were credited with saving thousands of lives.”
Lindsay says that the commission hit home for him and former dog handlers. “I had a brother who was in Vietnam, and I am a dog lover. I realized that I wanted to help them with the execution of a memorial. Before the model was created, we had a German shepherd come in to my studio. Then the son of one of the Vietnam handlers was dressed in a uniform. I listened to the handlers give me details. I did some sketches and created the model. The dog is alert. Its hair is erect, and the handler is looking towards the thereat.”
He adds that of the thousands of dogs deployed to Vietnam, only a few hundred returned, largely because of military regulations. That reality made the recognition of the dogs important to the members of the association as well as to the sculptor.
Lindsay attributes his involvement with public art to his experience at the Johnson Atelier. “The apprenticeship program was pulling artists from around the world. That helped broaden my perspective on public art. Secondly the clients of the Johnson Atelier were prominent New York artists and heavyweights. We had direct contact with (these artists) and talked to them and saw how they would develop work for public commissions. That was a type of training beyond the program.”
The sculptor says that to satisfy his own interests and find new ways of working with artists he has expanded his exploration of approach and materials. “I reached a stage where I really got bogged down with my process of creating work. I had the opportunity to join people under the direction of Deborah McKay at the Lawrenceville School. She taught a class called ‘Wild Creativity.’ It freed me up and changed my practice to some degree.”
Around the same time, he says, he decided to go to Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey, to learn glass casting. The process is similar to lost-wax casting and uses molten glass. “It was a revelation for me. The glass provides color. Glass also contains interior features, whereas the metal sculptures are all about surface.” To demonstrate he shows a glowing glass figure that is satisfying in its shape yet filled with a wondrous galaxy of shapes.
“The latest development is my involvement with 3D printing,” he says. “It is another kind of material that has been a revelation of sorts. Sculptors generally don’t create a number of pieces because of the process and cost. Therefore their evolution as artists can be somewhat slow. But I found that 3D printing is a process that allows for a faster turnaround.”
Lindsay, who uses a Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, says there are a number of different ways to produce designs for 3D printing. “The first way to model is to use 3D printing software, for example Rhino. The second is to use a pre-existing form and creating a model by means of laser scanning. And the third method is to access a library of 3D files for different projects that are readily available and to manipulate them in some way.”
As an example he shows a model of a prospective commission for an earthwork that would involve both a human figure and a low pyramid: an image of Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill. “I used a traditional method of using (a figure of Sisyphus) modeled directly in wax over an aluminum armature, and joined him to an actual rock. That was scanned in collaboration with Jon Lash at the Digital Atelier (U.S. 1, January 29, 2014). I was then able to print out a model. But I wanted to present the figure with the pyramidal form. So we used the modeling software in (the free online program) Rhino for the pyramid. So we could change the scale using the printing software.”
Lindsay says the he and fellow sculptor and former Johnson Atelier artist Scott Thompson are currently working together at GFS and are interested “in pushing the technology and materials” for the creation of their sculptures. “I really love these prints as projects in themselves. I am printing with low layering for light and low resolution for surface. I like seeing the evidence of process in the finished work, the visual records of the process of creation. I’m putting them out there. I am hoping to create more interest in this process.” That includes the workshops he and Thompson will conduct in both July and September at Grounds For Sculpture.
Lindsay’s work with others has been formalized through his business, Integral Sculpture Work. “It provides other artists with production services: modeling, enlarging, mold making, fabrication, and restoration. It is principally metal work. My clients are in the mid-Atlantic sector — Washington, New York. This is a natural outgrowth of my interest in collaborating with other artists. I am interested in the relationship that develops with an artist and their foundry.”
With work expanding, the single father of two daughters recently decided to move to Trenton and purchased a 1925-era two-story brick building that was originally used by Richardson and Sons building supplies and more recently was owned by the late sculptor, entrepreneur, and Trenton mayoral candidate Frank Weeden.
“My studio (at GFS) in Hamilton was serving its purpose, but I outgrew it physically and wanted to do different things in production. So I needed a new place. Trenton appealed to me because there are some great old buildings. And it’s relatively affordable — much more affordable than New York City or Philly. I sought to create a situation for myself that was live-work. I think it is particularly of interest for artists because we’re not 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workers. As a small business owner there were a number of things that attracted me to Trenton,” says Lindsay.
That includes the arts. “Trenton is a good place to be as a working artist. I really like some of the grass-roots projects that Sage Coalition is involved with. I think there’s good energy, an indicator of positive change,” he says.
Lindsay — who is also a member of the AbOminOg International Arts Collective in Trenton — is currently working with fellow sculptor and painter Kate Graves on the “Portable T Project.” It uses a removed “T” from the “Trenton Makes World Takes” bridge for an upcoming exhibition and event for the Port of Trenton Foundation (a project designed to commemorate Trenton’s role as a port).
This blending of his professional with the community is something that he consciously embraces when he says, “My interest in Tibetan Buddhism relates to my sculpture practice in the sense that there are few separations between work and not working. It all flows together.”
Like the liquid that ignited his passion.
Bruce Lindsay: Realism in Cast Bronze, Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Saturdays, May 31, June 7, and June 14, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. $265 to $245. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org
Bruce Lindsay and Scott Thompson, Introduction to 3D Printing, Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Saturday, July 12.
Bruce Lindsay and Scott Thompson, Enlarging Your Art with 3D Printing, Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Saturdays, September 13 and 27.
Seward Johnson: The Retrospective, Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Through Sunday, September 21, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. $8 to $12. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.