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Meet the Artist

BY BARBARA TOBIAS –

Mena is fortunate enough to have a new sculptor in town:  Joe Van Wolf has been working about 25 years at bronze sculpture, assisting his father.  He’s now a Mena resident.

When I asked Joe how he goes about creating a sculpture, he said that it varies with the size of the piece, but he usually starts by building an armature of wood and metal to support the weight of the clay packed onto it. He has used water clay (easiest to work with, but has to be kept moist) or, for more detailed work, Italian Plastilina, an oil-based clay that will never dry out.

After the clay model is finished, he partitions the model in sections by joining thin brass sheets along the length or width of the clay model.  Next step is to pour plaster of Paris onto the surface to a thickness of one inch.  When the plaster sets, he pulls the individual sections off the clay.

Each individual section is cleaned, coated with orange shellac and greased either with soapsuds or melted beeswax in kerosene. Plaster is then laid on the surface of each section about one-half inch thick.  Then burlap is mixed with plaster and laid on each section.  The sections are fitted together then sealed with plaster and burlap for strength.

The next day, after the plaster has sufficiently setup, the “waste” mold has to be chiseled off.

Then the plaster model must be reworked to repair damage, add detail, or make alterations.  Now the piece is ready to be cast in any metal at an art bronze foundry.  Joe would color the plaster model to bronze patina for exhibition purposes.

After the sculpture is cast in bronze, the piece has to be “chased.”  That involves refinishing, grinding, hand hammering the detail that is lost in the casting process.  A base has to be selected and made.  Lap joints have to be welded at the bottom to secure the sculpture.  Holes have to be drilled and threaded. A template has to be made to insure that the mounting pins will match up with the holes drilled into the base.

According to Joe, the fun part is patinating–using acids to achieve a colored effect.

These are the challenges in making bronze sculptures—it is not easy.

Joe said, “I think for me the fascination with the medium is that your creative process is always challenging you to tap into that spiritual awareness that seems to drive the creative process.

“I owe thanks to my wife who has encouraged me to finish a great many pieces that I had forgotten about that were discovered when we began our move to Mena.  I have a few new ideas that I have a mind to do as well.”

So keep an eye on what is going on at Mena Art Gallery so you will know when you can get a look at Joe’s creations.

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