A new fine art course in Swift Current provided a unique hands-on opportunity for participants to learn more about bronze casting.
The Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC) hosted the class for the first time during 2020 and due to the significant level of interest it is planning to present it again.
The course instructors were AGSC Curator Heather Benning and Phillip Tremblay of Julienne Atelier foundry in Pense.
“I have a list of people from across Saskatchewan who would like to take this class,” Benning said. “Phil and I enjoy working together, and so we're talking about doing different types of workshops where it will be accessible to our local community and then people who want to travel from away to come and take the class.”
Each participant in the bronze casting class created a bronze sculpture from concept to completion. She noted the AGSC actually offered the only bronze class then available in the province.
“It's unique for Swift Current, because there's not a lot of bronze casting done in Saskatchewan in general,” she said.
The AGSC is able to offer this class, because it is using a section of the Dickson Community Centre (the former St. Patrick Elementary School) as studio space for art classes and workshops.
“We're really lucky that we have classrooms in the Dickson Community Centre and that we can offer classes like this,” she said. “A lot of smaller community galleries of our size will have classroom spaces, but not quite as much as what we have here, and it's fantastic that we have the space to be able to bring in these types of workshops.”
The bronze casting class was originally scheduled to take place on Saturdays over a two-month period from May to March 2020, but it was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the AGSC was closed to the public from mid-March to mid-August.
“We did literally two classes and then the shutdown happened,” she recalled. “So a lot of the students got to take home their oil clay and then work on it throughout the lockdown and that whole isolation period. … Then once the gallery got running again and everything started coming back to existence, we decided to redo the class and get it going again.”
There were nine students in this bronze casting class that started again in October. They learned about oil clay modelling, silicone mould-making with acrylic hard-shell mother mould, lost-wax casting using ceramic shell, bronze pouring, patinas, and resin casting.
“It's much more involved than a regular sculpting class, and that's because we're making the original sculpture out of an oil-based clay that doesn't dry,” Benning said. “Then we make a silicon mould and then a puzzle piece mother mould that goes over top of it. So even just the mould making is more advanced that what will happen in many sculpting classes.”
There are a few more steps that must be completed before each bronze sculpture is completed at the foundry.
“A wax will be made of the original sculpture that was made inside that mould, and then after that process is done another mould is made, which is called a ceramic shell mould,” she explained. “That happens at the foundry, and then from there the wax gets burned out of the ceramic shell mould and the bronze gets poured in. So it's a very full-on, developed process that we have to follow and we have to start with a quality sculpture and then the next, most important part is really good quality moulds.”
The completion of the bronze sculptures during a visit to the Julienne Atelier foundry, which is one of Canada’s premier foundries, is another unique aspect of the class. Students were originally going to visit the foundry as a group, but due to COVID-19 restrictions it was changed to individual appointments.
The foundry was started in 1985 by renowned Saskatchewan artist and sculptor Joe Fafard, who passed away in 2019. It is now managed by Tremblay, who is a nephew of Fafard.
In addition to creating Fafard’s sculptures during his artistic career, the foundry has been casting bronze sculptures for notable artists such as Victor Cicansky, Dempsey Bob, Michael Hosaluk and Peter Von Tiesenhausen. Tremblay is proud of the quality of the work done at this foundry in Saskatchewan.
“We always seem to sell ourselves short that we don't have the talent, and actually there's a foundry two hours away from Swift Current that can cast their work into bronze,” he said. “That's what I want to keep going with, what I've known from the last 35 years by working with Joe. So whatever skills he taught me, I want to keep passing those down and then hopefully we still keep what he built and what I do in the foundry.”
He has been thinking for a while about doing a workshop to introduce people to the foundry, and he was therefore excited about this collaboration with Benning.
“I want to keep casting bronze and it's a good way to introduce local people that they know about our foundry,” Tremblay said. “So I love it. It's our first time I've done this and I'm actually having a lot of fun and working with good people.”
His advice to course participants were to create their sculptures without thinking about how easy or difficult it might be to cast at the foundry.
“Art is not about making it simpler in production,” he said. “It's about the artist making the piece they want. I don't direct the artist what to do. The artist directs me on what to do. It's called having respect for the artist and that's where you work from.”
He was going to follow the same approach during the visits of the course participants to the foundry.
“When they come to the foundry, I'm dealing with separate clients,” he said. “They're each an artist. … Once we make your wax, you have to approve it. Once we have the bronze casted, you have to approve it, and once we do the patina, which is the colouring of the bronze. So they have to like everything. I don't direct them what to do. I direct my production crew of what the artist wants, but it's the artist that has the final say.”
Ray Gowan decided to join the class, because he wanted to learn more about the process of bronze casting.
“I've watched the videos of Joe Fafard in the foundry going through all these steps and I could never get it straight in my head,” he said. “There's so many steps to it, mind boggling almost.”
The class was a great experience and he looked forward to visiting the Julienne Atelier foundry in Pense.
“I didn't have an understanding of how it was done,” he said. “It's been really interesting. I had no idea we'd get to this stage. It's really neat.”
He created a sculpture of a cupped hand, in which he will place a glass ball that he created last winter when he participated in a glass blowing class during a trip to Hawaii.
Joan Ortman had no idea what the class was going to be about when she signed up and was curious to discover more.
“It was very interesting and a medium that has not come to Swift Current,” she said. “I've dabbled a little bit with taking some pottery classes and a little bit of art a while ago, but nothing as major as this at all.”
She really enjoyed the class, and was surprised by how detailed the process was to create a bronze casting.
“It was phenomenal,” she said about the class. “If they're going to do it again, I'm signing up again. Now I know the process, and I'll think a little clearer on what I want to do for a project.”
She had different ideas for a sculpture, but eventually decided to create a gargoyle, which she named Spot.
“I have a gargoyle collection at home that I put out in my garden,” she said. “So I thought that might just be the perfect addition to the set, and it will be one that I created myself rather than going and buying at the store. It will be a very special one.”
For more information about upcoming AGSC classes and workshops, visit the gallery’s website at www.artgalleryofswiftcurrent.org or contact the gallery at 306-778-2736.