In my last post, I talked about how I was a little behind schedule. I still am, and there are many reasons; one of them is that I've been working on Bronze Wally for the last seven months.
From the beginning of my 55x55 project, I knew I wanted to work in 3D, and local bronze artist Rodd Ambroson told me to let him know if I wanted to create a bronze. Seemed like a pretty lofty goal, but inspiration came from a touristy gift shop at the New Zealand airport in 2019. I have always liked the forms created by Maori artists, and this gift shop was full of jade carvings that reminded me of water beasts like the Wallowa Lake Monster. I took some photos, and last January I finally started sketching ideas. I did not know whether I'd try to carve something out of stone or create something in ceramic.
After I made some quick Sculpey clay versions, I wondered if I should make a very small bronze, so I sent Rodd some photos. He thought it could make an interesting bronze but said it needed to be at least 12" for maximum impact. I made a cardboard cutout to see what that size would look like. At this point I took my sketches, cardboard model, and Sculpey version to Parks Bronze Foundry in Enterprise to get some pointers. They were very kind and gave me a lot to think about. I met with Rodd again, and he set me up with the right type of clay that doesn't dry in air and could be softened in my Crock Pot. I also made a cardboard barrier for my work space because, after looking at Rodd's studio, I knew clay would go everywhere. I had some clay tools from college, borrowed some from Rodd, and bought a couple. I was ready to begin.
I promptly heated the clay too hot, so I had to slop it onto my pattern. By trial and error, I started figuring things out. I really enjoyed how the carving tools cut through the clay – it felt very therapeutic.
I had worked on Wally as much as I could with him lying down and needed to start working on him upright. When I tried to rig him to stand up, he fell apart. In the beginning, Rodd had suggested using an internal wire armature, so I was embarrassed I hadn't listened. I pieced Wally together and found the easiest way to work on him upright was with four glumps of clay stuck to an old block of wood. I messed around with different heads and body parts. Once he was upright, and while looking at him at all angles, I felt he needed more girth to his body compared to his tail. Rodd was a great support and kept pushing me to think about things in new ways.
Originally, I wasn't going to include waves but decided they helped to balance Wally out because I didn't want him straight up and in-line anymore. I played around with wave textures. Another big change was to place his tail on the other side of his body. This required me to break his tail apart again. Since January I had worked on other 55x55 projects, but by summer, I was focused only on Clay Wally and was starting to think that I would never get done. I was still enjoying the process, but at every angle and eye level, there was something to fix.
I was getting close, and Rodd came by for one last look-see. Things were finally coming together. He suggested I take Wally back to the foundry to make sure I was thinking everything through. They only had a couple suggestions to make the casting easier, and I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I finished up on August 10th, packed Clay Wally safely into the car, and drove him to Parks Bronze. The doors were locked and they were on vacation. Aaaaarghahaha! Wally is back home; tucked away in my cool basement. For a future blog post I hope to be able to take photos of the multi-step process that Clay Wally goes through to become Bronze Wally.
Inspired by life, informed by science, enthralled by beauty – it all comes together in the exquisite bronze figures Rodd creates. Beautiful to look at, his creations also radiate warmth, feeling, motion and intelligence that he, somehow, has managed to breathe into them.
Rodd grew up in a small town in central Oregon with a doctor for a father. He earned a Fine Arts Degree from Oregon State University and later, a Master of Fine Arts in bio-medical communications at the Texas HealthScience Center. He became a medical illustrator and was twice honored with awards from the Association of Medical Illustrators. Rodd decided he wanted to follow another path and become a sculptor. When he turned his hand to clay, his profound knowledge of anatomy, art, science and mathematics all merged and resulted in the creation of figures of exquisite anatomical accuracy and beauty.
Rodd’s limited edition bronzes can be found in fine art collections all across the United States and abroad. You can follow Rodd on Facebook here.