Back To The Bronze Age
Old Art Form Has Students All Fired Up
By Eric Stevick
It would be hard for Tucker Cooper or his sister, Madison, to comprehend the heritage in their hands on the recent afternoon they sculpted red wax into figurines.
The kindergartner and first-grader at Totem Falls Elementary in the Snohomish School District were engaged in the lost wax method of bronze casting, a craft first introduced in 1570 B.C. Egypt and honed by the Greeks during the seventh century.
Tucker created a penguin, Madison, a coiled snake with a fly on top.
Their statuettes-in-the-making will be cast in bronze through an unusual “Out of the Foundry and Into the Classroom” after-school program offered by the Sultan-based Northwest Artworks Sculpture Center.
The rare opportunity was not lost on Peter Cooper, Tucker’s and Madison’s dad, who sat alongside his children offering encouragement in the elementary school library.
“It’s the first time I have ever even heard of something like this program, especially for kids of this age,” Cooper said.
The chance to explore bronze casting as an art form is unusual for children and adults, said Todd Pettelle, co-owner of the foundry.
It can be an expensive craft because of the equipment and expertise involved. It simply isn't part of existing public and private school curricula and few colleges offer it, Pettelle said.
“I don’t think there is any other program like this in the country,” Pettelle said.
Northwest Artworks offers a long list of disciplines that can be learned through sculpture, such as math through three-dimensional proportional thinking, social studies through the importance of sculpture in history and cause-and-effect thinking.
The classroom is a growing area of business for Northwest Artworks while being professionally fulfilling, Pettelle said. In March alone, Northwest Artworks teachers will be in 15 schools from Issaquah to Okanogan. The company hopes that half its work will be through classrooms from kindergarten through college in the next two years.
It is also looking to teach beyond the conventional classroom to hospitals and rehabilitation centers as a form of therapy.
The bronze sculpture workshop and casting from wax ingot costs $30 a student and includes two sessions, tools and instruction.
At Totem Falls, Barbara Keithly, program coordinator and an instructor for Northwest Artworks, introduced 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds to art vocabulary and guided their hands-on work.
In one session, they created works out of clay that would become models for their wax-to-bronze sculptures. The children learned to talk about form and texture and to use their fingers as pincers to manipulate the wax.
The students also got to inscribe their initials on the bottoms of their sculptures and began to understand the enduring nature of their work.
“Bronze doesn't break,” Kiethly told her young charges to a wide-eyed reception. “Bronze is going to be around for centuries.”