Artworks is both a foundry and an art studio: the special amalgam of David Reid, sculptor and master foundryman, and Michael Sloane, engineer and business manager. A unique opportunity is provided here for the artist/sculptor to have his work cast. The studio is primarily engaged in casting 'one-off' and limited edition pieces in bronze for individual sculptors and artists: but as the name suggest, it involves a wider range of skills than straight foundry work. Artworks has the ability to cast pieces requiring larger moulds; to make bronze portraits, as well as a whole range of sculpture-related processes in association with the artists.

David Reid brings to Artworks his experience as a master founder at Elam School of Art (also his experience in setting up his own small private foundry in the Waitakeres). Reid has travelled extensively in Europe and the United States observing foundry techniques and extending his perceptions as a sculptor.

David Reid and Michael
Sloane pouring metal
into the fired moulds

Last year, Michael Sloane and David Reid travelled together to the United States to look at commercial and art foundries, and it was while they were there that Artworks in its present form was conceived.

Sloane trained as an engineer. He worked first in designing LPG systems and boilers, and then worked for six years as a project engineer for Ceramco. He is able to use his technical and management expertise to help artists move their work 'from the concept to the reality'.

Artworks uses primarily the 'lost wax ceramic shell' process - a modern extension of those very ancient investment casting techniques that were used in the bronzes found in the Pyramids, and perfected by the Chinese artisans around 1200 B.C.

If the original work comes to the foundry in clay, plaster, wood, or some other moulding or carving material, a rubber mould is made, from which an exact wax replica is taken. A number of wax 'sprues' or vents are built on to the artist's form, so that the molten metal can flow into the cast. If the work is made firstly in wax these sprues are added to the original model. This forms a wax 'tree', which is dipped into a silica slurry, and then stuccoed with small ceramic particles. These two processes are repeated until a strong ceramic shell is obtained.

This ceramic shell is then heated in a kiln, firstly to melt out the wax from within it, then at a higher temperature, to fire the mould. Non-ferrous alloys, mainly bronze, are melted in a crucible furnace, and poured in a molten state through the sprues into the fired mould. The resulting metal cast is then waterblasted and 'pickled' to remove any traces of the ceramic shell. After that the work is cut from the metal sprues and the surface is 'fettled'. That is to say, all traces of the metal rods and sprues used in the pouring process are removed by grinding and filing.

Finishing stages after casting

The surface of a work of art is of course all-important to the final integrity of the piece. It is especially in this subtle area that Artworks parts company with commercial foundries. The care and attention to details on the surface areas constitute the main reason for using the 'ceramic shell lost wax' process: butthefinal'chasing', or surface work, and the addition of a patina, and waxing, are the processes that transform a cast lump of metal into a work of art.

Through Artworks staff have the skill, obviously, and the sensitivity to complete these final stages themselves, many artists like to carry out such finishing touches. Artworks provides them with the advice and the equipment to do it.

Currently Artworks is doing work for Terry Stringer, Greer Twiss, Anthony Stones, Terry Keenan and Ricardo Zappata. Casting 'one-off' pieces of individual artists' work is what Sloane and Reid say keeps them sane: but longer-run editions such as the commission of an edition of Phar Lap, the celebrated racehorse, are what helps them keep solvent. More commercial assignments can be challenging too. A recent commission from an Auckland restaurant for a stainless-steel and brass palm tree stimulated the aesthetic and technical abilities of the Artworks staff, and set a precedent for other commercial interests involved in creating their own art.

Michael Sloane pouring

The highly innovative approach of Reid and Sloane in an occupation which has traditionally tended to be utilitarian is what gives Artworks its direction. This can be seen in the decision to run a summer school, to teach basic casting of the participants' own work on a farm at Sandy Bay on the Coromandel. It is evident, too, in their approach to all aspects of art casting where a refinement of detail is necessary or where the unconventional is indicated.