It takes supreme patience and perseverance to sculpt in bronze, as the artists at the Hampton Valley Studio demonstrate. At Hampton Valley Studio, four artists keep alive the “lost wax method” of metal casting, a 5000-year old technique widespread in the 18th Century whose many steps test artists’ fortitude at every stage. The metal medium suits portraits and figurative work, an eternal keepsake of an important moment in time immortalised forever. The artists come from routes as circuitous as art teaching, engineering and farming but all are fascinated by the process and the finished product.

One of Australia’s few art foundries, the Hampton Valley Studio is located at the home of David McEvoy. In metal sculpting, he combines his childhood enjoyment of wood sculpting, an admiration of Rodin’s work and the ability to problem solve, thanks to an engineering background.

Col Seccombe started wood sculpting while living in the USA in the mid 1990s, switching to metal after joining David in working from his studio. He is currently focusing exclusively on a pair of brolgas, to date 18 months in the making. “There is too much of myself in my work to sell it to anyone,” Col says.

After 20 years as a potter, Denise Rosser has a headstart making the initial clay form. She started experimenting in bronze last year and with 10 pieces completed and all of her aluminium pieces sold, she says, “The end result keeps you hooked; it’s really satisfying to think about my work in homes around the world.”

Art teacher and Henry Moore lover Cynthia Armstrong joined the studio after meeting David at a traditional metal sculpting course at a USQ McGregor Summer School. “David’s largely self-taught experimentation over the past 10 years has made the process much easier for the rest of us.”

At my visit, I witnessed the most dramatic and speedy stage of the whole production process — pouring the molten metal into moulds which are then broken apart to reveal the artist’s success, or failure. Prior to this, clay is the sculptor’s starting point. A flexible silicon mould is created around the clay which is filled with wax. Handcarved detail can be added at this stage after the silicon is removed. Around this wax model, a ceramic mould is created. After the wax is melted out of this fireproof mould, it is ready to receive the liquid bronze, aluminium or sterling silver.

Heated to 1100 degrees, the crucible holding the molten bronze is carefully removed and poured into the waiting moulds. Fast forward 15 minutes and the metal has solidified enough for further cooling by immersion in water. While still sizzling, the moulds are helped off with the assistance of a hammer, to reveal the work inside.

At every painstaking and technically demanding stage, the process can fail rendering hours and hours of work redundant. “But sometimes the mistakes work,” says David optimistically.

Guest sculptor Vanessa West adds, “But there’s more to do — sandblasting and grinding back to fully reveal the bronze.” After that comes the fun part of selecting a patina and a stone display plinth to create a certified limited edition artwork. With David’s recipe book of 700 different finishes, that’s not a simple task either. Modern tools do make the fiddly jobs easier as does the generosity of the group in sharing their technical knowledge — a rarity in the art world.

The result is a handcrafted artwork of solidity, rarity and beauty.

www.hamptonvalleystudio.com.au