It was exciting to arrive at the studio of Sparta Bronze in Show Low on the morning of March 18, 2017 as all the artists were working and preparing for a very important life-size bronze pour. Most of us living on the Rim are familiar with the life-size sculpture of the card players on the Deuce of Clubs in Show Low. It is properly named “Cooley Clark Monument Card Game”, by original artist Dennis Lynn. If you have noticed of late–it is no longer there.
In November of 2016, Show Low Officer, Darrin Reed was shot and killed in the line of duty. The community was greatly saddened by this and created a candlelight vigil for Officer Reed by placing candles at the monument. Most people would not know this famous sculpture was made of Styrofoam fiberglass and not fireproof. During the night the sculpture had caught fire and the landmark was destroyed. It is considered an accident and the City of Show Low is now providing funds along with go-fund-me and other grant donations to restore their precious landmark, considered to be the heart of the community and an important piece of art about the history of Show Low.
The City Council decided this important piece of art should be recreated and they commissioned Artists’ Kent Kidwell and Howard Noble, owners of Sparta Bronze to recreate the sculpture in bronze. Sparta Bronze is a foundry in Show Low and the only foundry known in the northeast part of Arizona. It is not only a foundry but a one-stop-shop; meaning the owners are artists and producers with a crew of students available to work with them on various projects. Listed here are students who were involved with this particular project: Chris Christiansen, General Technician; Ian Kinde, Metal Worker (working closely with Howard Noble), and students in residence are; Felicity DeWitt and Esmee McClarin.
These are students in the Metal Arts Program interested in learning and working with the lost wax process of bronze sculpture. It is a rare situation indeed for a foundry to house all the talent necessary from inception of an idea to the final production and installation of a life-size or monumental piece of art. Kent Kidwell is a freelance sculptor and Fantasy artist. He is President of WarLord Studios and partner with Howard Noble at Sparta Bronze. WarLord is his company from where he has produced his work for more than thirty years. He has been sculpting most of his life and in his own words he states, “This is all I know”. You can Facebook him at Kent Kidwell. Howard Noble is a Metal Art Instructor at Northern Pioneer College in Show Low. In his words; “I see metal arts as a bridge between traditional welding and the fine arts”. As Kidwell says of his partner, Noble, “He can do just about anything with metal, from blacksmithing to forming metal suits of the type used in Renaissance fairs and the like”.
Kidwell and Noble worked in affiliation with the original artist, Dennis Lynn on the artistic posturing of the original as the wax mold was sculpted for the new piece. They also collaborated with James McLaughlin, a Blacksmith from Overgaard (and advertiser in this paper), on the production of the bronze pour. I thought it was well put when Kidwell described McLaughlin as the man “who plays with fire”. McLaughlin and Noble have collaborated on many projects throughout the years.
The process of pouring the final pieces into bronze is quite an involved effort by all. I am told that about 200 pounds of bronze is used for this particular piece and there are three or four pours to complete. The temperature of the bronze is about 1900 degrees to 2000 degrees when they do the pour. The bronze is poured into a smelting furnace.
As the artists toured me around the studio showing and explained the process from beginning to end I was amazed at the detailed process of every step involved and understood why it takes nearly one year to complete. The first thing they do is make forms from styrofoam; then wax it to a hard surface and apply clay. Then it is roughed into shape and this is where Kent Kidwell begins his work. The sculpture is dismembered and made into mould blocks and filled with silicon. Then a process of hydrocal plaster is used; then the waxing and this is where Howard Noble, the metal artist becomes more involved. This is a very simplified small outline of the process that will give you an idea of the volumes of work involved from the beginning of a concept to the actual bronze pour. It is a very technical art form and every step is of the utmost of importance. As you can see by the photographs they are doing the actual bronze pour in a burn-out furnace with temperatures of about 1200 degrees to 1800 degrees depending on the size of the pieces to be poured. This might help one understand why bronze sculpture is in the high-end market to purchase. Much of the costs to the artists working in this medium are all up-front costs.
The pour is complete now, but there is still work to be done to perfect the sculpture and get ready for inspections and installation. Installation will be at the old site on the Deuce of Clubs where the original piece was. Kidwell says they hope to install sometime during the month of April.
“An Artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
—James McNeil Whistler