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DIY bronze sculpture? Arts Refoundry class shows how

April 14, 2012 |  6:01 am

Arts-Refoundry-bronzeI recently saw something very cool on a local listserv, nestled between the usual debates about the precise boundaries of Mount Washington and Glassell Park and minutes of neighborhood council meetings. It was an ad for a class where you can make your own bronze sculpture. The class was happening on my birthday.

What could be better? There were three spots left, so I signed up my daughter Renee and friend Mandy, and early one Saturday morning we buzzed down to Arts Refoundry in Lincoln Heights.

In a semi-outdoor workshop within a large industrial yard, we gathered around a long table, tucked into pan dulce and coffee and got working.

PHOTO GALLERY: Making sculpture

There were 10 of us, and each got about a fistful of wax to play with.

“Just work with it in your hands for a while until it softens up,” Kate Mayfield guided us while her husband, master foundryman Gordon Bowen, pictured here, fired up his biodiesel-fueled furnace for a pour of molten bronze.

The wax was almost as hard as rock. I shoved it between my thighs to warm it; Mandy ran out of patience and marched out to the parking lot, revved up her car and heated the wax on the engine block.

Arts-Refoundry-heating-waxLater on, little alcohol lamps and a hair dryer made the wax more pliable so it wouldn't crack as we shaped it, and allowed us to heat up the sculpting tools (the same ones dentists use to sculpt crowns) so we could combine bits together or smooth the sculpture out. For three hours, we were lost in the process. It was great.

I made a hybrid creature inspired by octopus and jellyfish. Renee made a clam shell, and Mandy made a dragon. We left our sculptures behind for Gordon to finish up using the “lost wax” Arts-Refoundry-carve-process that goes like this: Create a ceramic shell mold around the wax sculpture. Heat the shell mold until the wax melts out of it. Pour in molten bronze. Wait for it to cool, then crack the mold open and clean up the piece.

Arts Refoundry runs sculpture classes of various types regularly. My class cost $150 per person — a fee that covers a demo of the process, materials, guidance and processing of your piece, a small bronze sculpture that you can pick up in a few weeks.

Arts Refoundry is at 651 Clover St., Unit X, Los Angeles. If you want to visit, call first for an appointment. Kits as well as classes are available; commemorative baby-feet casts also offered.

-- Rosie Mestel

Arts Refoundry Rosie
Arts Refoundry shell Arts Refoundry dragonClockwise from top: Rosie Mestel's octopus-jellyfish creature, and her classmates' dragon and clam shell. Photo credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Photos of class: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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