bursting them off with a mallet and very sharp chisel and then by filing back to the sculptor's surface. The surface of the bronze requires skilled cleaning and patinating with acids and waxes. This patination creates the surface colour and is carefully achieved through consultation between the craftsman and the artist.
In this way, an edition of 6-10 bronzes is made. At any step, disaster may occur & the cast can fail or be damaged. To achieve casting of the quality of Thomas Bates' bronzes, only the most skillful of founders are used. Larger editions can be made, but in the case of the majority of Bates' work, the editions are kept purposely small to enhance the rarity of these sculptures. Each bronze is considered an original, & after the edition is made, the moulds are destroyed. Each piece is signed, & a certificate to confirm its number in the edition is issued. The number in the edition does not reflect on its value, as each piece is considered an original. This is the time-honoured process of making bronze sculptures & differs from the process of working directly in wax, as many sculptors do, when there is no 'plaster unique' to judge the standard of the bronze cast against. It is time consuming & a highly skillful way of working.
A note on the disappearance of sculptors' casting skills...
It appears that few sculptors these days have the knowledge & skill to work in this way, from clay through piece moulds into plaster uniques for bronzes. These skills disappeared in the 1970s & '80s when they ceased to be taught to sculpture students in most English Art schools. The loss of these casting skills has been regretted by many sculptors, as modelled clay work cannot be preserved indefinitely, whereas plaster uniques are fragile but permanent; there are still Roman plaster existing. Hence a great deal of good clay work is lost by many artists & rather a lot of wax work is cast instead. In tradition, wax was used to make a maquette only, this was then modelled, full size, in clay. By losing this clay modelled part of the process, the subtlety of form which can be achieved in clay, I feel, has been sacrificed to the Gods of time & expense.
Thomas Bates was trained by sculptors who were expert mould makers, who had been young men when English Victorian sculptors trained them. So, Bates comes from a long line of English sculptural tradition which stretches right back, in essence to the Elizabethans & beyond. There are still very skilful founders around who continue to teach complex foundry techniques to apprentices, & though modern methods differ, yet have the same objective: reproduction in bronze.
~ Liz Forsyth, BA Hons.
Among Bates' instructors was sculptor & teacher of outstanding perceptions, Albert Pountney, ARCA, recipient of the Prix de Rome & Rome Scholar. The Prix de Rome is a very prestigious award, & only one person a year gets to go & study in Rome.