“Top Cat” is a bronze sculpture dedicated to the importance of animals in our lives. It is an homage to my cat, Moonface, with whom I shared my life for 15 years.
“Top Cat” is a monument to all the cats who have enriched my life, and modeled after Moonface, whom my husband Brian and I lost just after I received the Newmark Grant last June. Moonface had an uncanny understanding of humans, collected us as friends, and charmed us with her presence for 15 years. She believed an abundance of friends awarded her very high status, and she always behaved as if she were in total control of everything in her realm.
Moonface was born and raised on an avocado ranch in southern California, and had a short career as one of ten barn cats, which is where I met her. The barn gig lasted only a few months, and then all the cats needed homes. I was sitting outside the barn one day waiting for a friend when Moonface walked over, hopped up, and sat in my lap uninvited. I believe she chose me, and it is one of the finest compliments I have ever received. She was 4 years old at the time, a reasonably mature cat, so completely conscious of her actions.
“Flora and Fauna”
Top Cat will be on public display for the first time in “Flora and Fauna”, a two-person show at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, CO. Fellow Loveland sculptor Kathryn Vinson is the “Flora” part of our show and carves plants and insects in stone, copper, and wood. I am the “Fauna” part of the show with my stone and bronze stylized animals. This is an all-sculpture show, and we will each have 20 sculptures on display.
“Flora and Fauna” runs from November 10, 2020, through January 10, 2021 in the main gallery of the Loveland Museum. The museum requires masks, social distancing, and reservations if you wish to visit the show in person. We will also create opportunities to show sculptures and presentations online.
Larger Than Life
I have always wanted to make sculpture that is larger than life. I compare the experience of viewing a big sculpture to seeing a film image projected at full size on a screen. Suddenly commonplace things are seen as enormous, and take on a greater meaning and significance. Moonface was a most memorable cat and it is fitting that I sculpted her larger than life.
I am primarily a stone sculptor. Large stone sculptures weigh hundreds of pounds, even thousands of pounds. When I can work larger than life I will choose bronze as my medium. Bronze is rich and reflective, and weighs only a fraction compared to stone.
Top Cat is my fourth sculpture in bronze, and my first bronze to really explore and appreciate the beauty of creating in metal. There is an aesthetic to every artistic medium, and it is an adventure to discover how the unique properties of each medium influence my thinking and manifest in my work.
My career in animation informs my stone sculpture to a huge extent. Bronze sculpture is an amalgam of both animation and stone. We are the sum of our experiences and it is always fun to see this expressed through our creations. Making art is a process of getting to know one’s self.
The Bronze Process
In stone sculpture I create the entire sculpture myself, everything but the base. In bronze sculpture I make and perfect the original clay version of the sculpture that is to be molded. Then I work with very skilled artisans on the many successive steps in creating the bronze sculpture.
The Process in Pictures
Any sculpture I make starts with lots of drawing. I am a planner and I love the freedom of brainstorming ideas, changing forms, modifying, switching, refining, reflecting, and arriving at a design that I cannot improve, and that passes all my critical scrutiny. The next test is: do I love it? If I answer an emphatic “yes”, then I am on my way.
For Top Cat, I first made a small 10-inch clay maquette based on my drawings. (The “love-it” test is relevant at all stages of creation.)
I took the small clay sculpture to a 3-D digital scanning company that sized it up 4 times to be a 40-inch replica in blue styrofoam. Seeing the cat big was laugh-out-loud fun!
The blue cat needed a lot of tweaks and fixes as I covered the styrofoam with clay. This is a long reflective process and I needed to learn to see the design big—to take in the big shapes, find the new balances and rhythms in this larger context.
The final process in clay is to make the surfaces smooth and/or textured, and perfect. This is no easy task because clay is a very soft medium. If your fingernail touches it you leave a line in the clay. A fingerprint is visible. If you accidentally bump it ever-so-slightly there is a dent. The tools to achieve perfection are a scratchless dish washing scrubby, the smooth side of a paper towel, a cleaner called De-solve-It, and a rubber-gloved fingertip. Smoothing clay to perfection is a Zen-like process.
After the Perfect Clay
The perfect clay goes to the mold maker where the sculpture is molded in pieces up to a certain size because bronze can only be cast in molds up to a certain size. The molds create a negative space exactly like the positive form of the clay sculpture. Wax is poured into the mold thus making a positive of the sculpture in wax.
The wax goes to the foundry for casting in bronze. The wax is encased in a fireproof shell coating. It is called lost wax casting because the wax is burned out of the shell (lost) leaving another negative space. Molten bronze is then poured into the shell, thus making another positive, but this time in bronze.
The bronze pieces go to the metal chaser, who welds the pieces back together again, and again makes the sculpture perfect.
The sculpture goes to the patineur for the patina. In this case, Top Cat received a translucent patina that allows the beauty of the metal to shine through. This is a first for me because, in previous bronzes I made, I wanted the sculpture to emulate stone. However, with Top Cat I wanted to showcase the glory of bronze. Ed Darchuk created an exterior patina for Top Cat that is suitable for outdoor display.
There is Still More!
The next journey was to the base maker for a two-tiered round granite base–simple, elegant, and appropriate to echo the round forms of the cat.
The final journey was to the photographer for translation of this 3-D adventure to a two dimensional image I can share with you. I have worked with photographer Mel Schockner for over 10 years and have praised his talents in several blogs. He is a master of lighting and always brings dimension, definition, and excitement to his sculpture images.
Loveland, CO, is Sculpture Town. Four professional bronze foundries are located in or near Loveland; two of which are full-service foundries. Over 800 artisans work in the bronze industry. Over 80 professional sculptors live here. Two major sculpture gardens are located here. The largest outdoor sculpture show in the US, Sculpture in the Park, is held here every summer.
Every day I am grateful for the very talented people who live and work here, and make our city a special place for sculpture.