Fine sculpture is a staple of the art world. Many, however, mistakenly find it to be something reserved for museums and professional collectors. They may find it too large or delicate for home or personal display. On the contrary, sculpture is a fine art that should be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates emotionally rich and ascetically pleasing art. The next time you attend an art fair or browse through an online gallery consider a fine sculpture purchase. Here is some information to assist you:
What is fine sculpture?
Sculptures are created when an artist carves, assembles, or molds a given material, resulting in either a freestanding object or a relief. The sculptor is able to combine technique with an innate ability to pour emotion into the creation. Sculptures come in a wide array of size and composition.
Carving is sometimes done using marble or stone. The work is physically enduring and requires a skilled practitioner who uses complex versions of the hammer and chisel. Wood carving also can be done with a hammer/ chisel technique or with the use of a sharp knife. Carving can produce beautifully detailed results.
Clay modeling uses a very pliable and relatively inexpensive material that can be built up to create detail rich sculptures, then fired in a kiln to obtain permanent shape. New York sculptor Alacia Stubbs explains, “Clay has been a very gracious medium for me, facilitating my self-discovery as an artist.” Sometimes painted, clay allows for optimal creativity and versatility as seen in Stubbs botanical pieces. At times, clay can be used to create a “mold” for use with plaster or bronze.
Plaster sculptures start with the creation of an armature. This “skeleton” is a rough base made of steel or hard wire. Paper or fiber is drenched in a mixture of plaster and water and then wrapped around the armature, with layers of the plaster mixture on top. Once dryed, a large semi-wet piece of plaster of rough shape is then carved with sharp tools to achieve the desired outcome. The piece can be painted or finished with a light varnish for protection. At times, the plaster sculpture is used as the cast for a bronze mold.
Bronze casting can be achieved through sand-casting but most often through the lost-wax process. This process, used since antiquity, uses a molded form that is covered with rubber and allowed to harden. The inner piece is removed and the two rubber molds joined to create a whole. The rubber is filled with liquified wax which is allowed to cool and harden resulting in a replica of the original piece. Covered in plaster, the inner wax is melted away. Finally, melted bronze is poured into the shell. Once cooled, the plaster shell is carefully chipped away and the finished piece is buffed for imperfections. The process is long, precise and dependent on the size of the piece, requires much manpower.
Wax molding is a popular sculpting method. Sigi Eurich of Sigi Jewelry Design, San Francisco, shares her process: “A carved wax model is encased in plaster of Paris. Once dried it is burned out in an oven. The resulting negative mold is then used to receive the precious metal of either [14k gold or sterling silver].” Sigi’s mini-sculptures are perfect for display or as part of her unique jewelry offering.
Assemblage/ construction sculpture is sometimes known as mixed media or ‘found object’ art. Objects of various construction, including paper, wood, glass and even ‘junk’ can be assembled in a collage-like manner on a canvas or to create a three-dimensional object. This type of sculpture is a relatively recent addition to the artworld, becoming popular in the 20th century. Assemblage can be very unique with original ideas abound.
How to care for your purchase.
Every sculpture is as unique as its materials so care instructions will vary. Be sure to obtain care instructions from the artist, most will be able to give you some direction based on the materials used. Some basic instructions will apply to most sculptures.
If your sculpture is appropriate for the outdoors it is better to keep it in a dry shady area away from constant direct sunlight. Plaster does not fair well outdoors over time. Steel and iron may be subject to rusting if outside or exposed to moisture so the artist may be able to protect your piece with urethane.
Indoors, keep the sculpture away from woodstoves and fireplaces. Always use a clean, dry and soft cloth to dust the piece, never using furniture polish, glass cleaner or water unless specifically directed by the artist as some finishes are sealed with a synthetic lacquer finish. A thorough dusting and wiping away of fingerprints with a clean, dry, cotton cloth is usually the only basic maintenance required.
Use bold lighting and background to enhance the piece and make it a focal point. And, it may go without saying, but if your sculpture is breakable keep it in a safe place where it can be enjoyed visually but won’t be disturbed by children or pets.
Making a fine art purchase allows you to display your emotions and feelings for all to see. It will be become a conversation piece, an heirloom and a source of pride. If you find the purchase process enjoyable, attend a spring art fair or browse online for more selections. You might find another piece to add to your collection or perhaps choose to give the gift of art to a special person in your life. Only some of the more commonly found types of sculpture have been described here, for more information visit galleries such as Artists’ Heaven ( http: //www.artistsheaven.com) where you can see the work of Alacia Stubbs and Sigi Eurich. For more insight into the community of sculptors use a resource such as Sculpture Magazine ( http://www.sculpture.org).
About the Author: Shannon Southway is the Director of Strategic Relations & Quality Assurance for E-Integration, Inc., a provider of Information Technology products and solutions. E-Integration owns and operates Artists' Heaven, an art emarketplace. Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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