Sculpting artwork from molten metal is not a single venture, requiring skills from multiple artisans as supple clay models are formed into more lasting bronze statues.
For nearly 30 years, sculptor Veryl Goodnight has relied on the talents of Dimitry Spiridon. In addition to forging statues, the duo has also fashioned a friendship.
"Working with Veryl has been like a family business," said the Romanian bronze finisher. "She took me in, and we became more like a brother and sister. It's been great working together."
Goodnight's masterpieces start with measurements of her chosen models before constructing a wire armature, which serves as the skeleton to support a clay sculpture. A smaller working version, called a maquette, allows for easier manipulation of the clay, enabling Goodnight to foresee and solve most problems before creating the larger, less-flexible sculpture.
Once the working model is completed, digital scanners are implemented to create a computerized foam-carved armature. This serves as a blueprint to create a second clay model of the statue's actual size. Most of the second clay models are built slightly larger than the final piece to account for shrinkage during the casting process.
A high-strength silicon rubber is employed to create an accurate wax reproduction from the final clay sculpture for a plaster mold. A quarter-inch liquid wax is then painted into the mold before the spewing process is initiated.
Next, the wax is dipped into a ceramic slurry, the same stuff used for the insulating tiles on the space shuttle, and stucco is applied. This is then fired and hardened in a kiln to form ceramic shells, which hold 2,000-degree molten bronze, made up of 95 percent copper, 4 percent silicon and 1 percent manganese.
Once the bronze has cooled, the ceramic shell is removed, and finally the assembly and finishing process starts, which involves manipulating metal with clamps, pulleys, sledgehammers and welding torches. Grinding down the welds, known as chasing, restores the original texture of the sculpture.
A patina is lastly applied to the bright and shiny, single piece of bronze through the application of chemicals to achieve certain colors before the statue is waxed and buffed.
"Hiring Dimitry to do metal chasing, welding and patinas proved to be one of the best decisions of my career," Goodnight wrote in her retrospective coffee-table book, No Turning Back.
Spiridon, however, argued he's benefited most from the partnership, citing Goodnight as the true professional as evident in the precise details she's able to capture.
"I think history will be kind to Veryl," said the Cortez-based metal worker. "She will be known as one of the best Western artists of all time. For me, she already is the best."