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Why Bronze Sculpture?

Deran Wright
Stone mold for bronze sword
Bronze sword blade

My name is Deran Wright. I created my first bronze sculpture when I was 17, and never stopped. Over the years I have picked up a few things, and am happy to answer questions. Three questions I get asked a lot are;

What exactly is bronze?

What makes bronze a good medium for sculpture?

Why is bronze sculpture so expensive?

I'll try to answer these questions here.

What exactly is bronze?

Bronze and brass are both copper alloys. An alloy is when you take a pure metal ore, like copper, and mix in other metals, to change or enhance the qualities of the original ore.

Brass is approximately 66% copper and 34% zinc. Bronze is closer to 90% copper, and 10% tin. This is approximate, because trace amounts of other elements can be added to tweak the properties of the alloy to better fit its intended application.

What makes bronze a good medium for sculpture?

A little history first. The original application of bronze was probably improved weapons. The first metal spear points and knives were of copper, which is very soft. When bronze was discovered, it was an game-changing technological advance in weaponry. Thus the 'Bronze Age'.

Bronze sword blades were cast in primitive stone molds. A sword blank was carved into two opposing stones, with carved channels for the introduction of the molten metal, and to vent escaping gases.

These created very rough castings, which required hand smoothing, polishing, and sharpening to achieve a useful instrument. As time passed, the sword-smiths began to add decorative elements to enhance the aesthetic value of the finished object. It was only a short leap to purely decorative sculptures.

What makes a sword material good for sculpture? The ancient craftspeople discovered that it has excellent casting properties, is able to capture the slightest details, even finger prints. Bronze is strong and durable, and is highly corrosion resistant. Ancient bronzes have been discovered intact after spending 2000 years on the sea floor, or buried under ground. The melting point of bronze, 2100 degrees, is hotter than most house fires.

The Romans had a phrase, "as eternal as bronze".  If you want to create a sculpture that will last almost forever, in human timescale, there is no better medium than bronze.

Yet ancient bronzes are incredibly rare. Why? Humans are always the greatest threat to bronze sculptures. Throughout history bronze sculptures were often melted down to create weapons in times of war. Cannons, artillery shells, etc.,

Deran Wright

Why is bronze sculpture so expensive?

Bronze, the alloy itself, is actually not expensive. It is the process of taking a rough ingot and transforming into a sculpture that is expensive. This is known as 'The Lost Wax Process'.

Naturally, the sculptor would like to get some money for creating the original sculpture.

Once the sculptor has achieved their creative vision, the nuts and bolts of the lost wax casting process take over. This requires a large facility, and a team of skilled artisans and artists to operate. These skills, just like those of the sculptor, take years of experience to learn. Each stage of the process requires exacting and specific skills.

So now you're thinking of an industrial assembly line operation, because that's the kind of world we live in, and almost everything is made that way. But the lost wax bronze casting process is a throwback from an earlier time. It has been modernized in some areas, but still remains almost unchanged from a medieval era. And that is because every sculpture is different. Imagine a car factory in which every single car was handmade, and different from all the other cars that they have ever made before.

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