Sue Adams visits The Loop Art Foundry in White River to see what bronze casting involves. She returns fired up about the skill involved.
A burning cauldron, men dressed in hoods and masks, and a roaring red-hot fire – you could be forgiven for thinking you had been thrown back in time to an ancient ritual. But this is the scene you may come across when you visit The Loop Art Foundry in White River.
However, there is nothing sinister going on in this workshed – they are doing a ‘pouring’, one step of making a bronze sculpture. Interestingly, the bronze casting process is an ancient one, says sculptor and owner of the foundry, Michael Canadas. “It’s the same process used in the Bible to create the Golden Calf. We just have power tools.”
Before I was shown the complex process I thought it was a bit like making an Easter egg – sculpt the artwork, make a mould and then pour in the bronze. But it’s a lot more complex than that.
Michael is very humble as he walks me around his vast shed, but I begin to realise how much depends on the skill of the people in the foundry. Each person has a specific role in the process and they are all highly trained. “I really value the people I have here,” says Michael. “It has taken them years to get to their level of skill and I can’t easily replace them.”
Everywhere you look there are rubber moulds, casts and plaster copies. A statue of Mandela meets you at the door, a great eagle hovers nearby, a swimmer looks like she is about to take a leap across the shed and a life-size horse rears up behind a pillar.
It’s a great place for bringing fantasy into reality and that’s what The Loop Foundry does for its artists.
Michael Canadas grew up in the Lowveld and, after school, studied nature conservation and game capture. But he has always been fascinated by the foundry that his father took him to visit when he was eight years old.
He got a job managing a foundry belonging to Arend Eloff, a well-known South African sculptor, and in 2000 bought the foundry. Things just grew from there. He went to the Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in New York, and to an expert in Colorado to learn more about casting principles and patination (the final process that gives the bronze its look and colour). As Michael talks, his eyes burn with a similar fire to what I saw in the pouring process, and there is no doubting his passion for his work.
“I never thought I could sculpt. I didn’t think I was an artist,” he explains, when I ask after his own artistic talent. Only when the artists he used to commission could not keep up with the demand did he find out that he was so talented. “My artists were busy and I thought why not try this sculpting myself?