THE ARTIST

A Legacy of Craft

In bringing the sculptural vision of the Geological Coreium onto the plane of reality, it has been acknowledged that Snowden has created a tour de force of clay and bronze construction. But it has not only been the use of Rodin’s techniques and tools that has informed Snowden’s workmanship, where the sculptor has invented her own range of implements and formulas in carrying out her bronzes. Advances include Snowden’s re-invention of Rodin’s Cire de Memoire, a specialized foundry wax that permits complex sculptural detail from shattering. Another studio creation is her invention of a bronze polishing compound that utilizes diamond and zircon in the formula that aids the application of the Fournier Patina. Another of Snowden’s inventions is a clay smoothing emulsion. Snowden’s inventive metallurgical craft has resulted in the sculptor re-formulating her bronze alloy as well as advancing her bronze welding methods and finishing techniques. In carrying out certain works, Snowden employs her father’s invention for a moisture retardant sculpting medium presently available in art stores, a clay known as WED 217. Indeed, Snowden is the master of a number of innovative chemical liquids, salves, and physical technologies that are employed in the creation of her clays and bronze work.

The Rodin Tools

 

In speaking about her inheritance of Rodin’s tools,  Snowden remarks, “Certain French boxwood scapulas that were used in Rodin’s studios have finishes that are like river rocks. Nothing can equate with their fluid touch to smooth and comb out sculptural form. It is almost as if they pre-understand and intuit your touch upon them, promoting your sculpting actions.” Inherited in 1990 on her father’s death, Snowden keeps her collection of 38 of Rodin’s tools in careful isolation, preserving the bulk of them in their original workman’s wooden chest. Snowden uses tools number 7 and 8 and the Paris chasing head of the collection on all her works.

 

The Rodin tools came from Robert Eberhard, chairman of the Yale School of Sculpture as a gift to M.L. Snowden’s father, a fellow Yale professor, on his winning the greatest sculpture prize of his age, The Prix de Rome of 1927. A native of Geneva Switzerland, Eberhard studied in Paris. He gained the notice of Rodin who served on the Salon Jury of 1906 that awarded Eberhard a distinction of Merit for his portrait work.[i] A student of Antonin Mercie’, Eberhard quickly became employed in legendary 19th century ateliers. Eberhard’s expertise with plaster casting and molding resulted in his transfer over to Rodin’s studio as a practicien while still under the employ of marble master, Victor Peter.

 

Rodin and Eberhard formed a fast friendship that dissolved during the throes of World War I and the passing of Rodin in 1917. On emigrating to the United States, Eberhard joined the faculty of Yale University where he served more than fifty years as professor, Chairman of the Sculpture Department and Director of the Yale Archives.

 

In gaining possession of a portion of Rodin’s tools, Snowden remarked, “Each tool has a peculiar complex quality that is painstakingly crafted. They come from a time when everything was handmade, when horses and carts were used to deliver art to the salon; before the use of plastic. They come from a time when human touch meant everything in a tool.”

 

[i]Ibid. Ludovic Baschet. Societe Des Artistes Francais: Catalogue Illustre Du Salon de 1907,  125 Exposition  Rodin Grand Jury – 1905, 1906, 1907. P. 5; Eberhard, p. 285. .Paris, Bibliotheque Des Annales 51 Rue Saint-Georges, 1907. Eberhard studied at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris under Antonin Mercie’.

Steps of Sculpture from Concept to Cast as practiced in the M.L. Snowden's sculpture rooms

The following list is from a conversation with M.L. Snowden, and recounts information communicated to her by her father, from Eberhard through Rodin:

 

Steps in the Studio

 

  1. An artistic idea becomes revealed.

  2. A concept sketch is created in clay or on paper.

  3. A small armature is built from a series of small welded wires. A concept model in clay or wax is constructed and modified on the armature.

  4. A waste mold is constructed and a plaster positive is created. The original clay is destroyed in this process.

  5. A more advanced clay from the sketch is now planned.

  6. A metal armature of substantial strength is constructed for the scale model or finished study piece.

  7. The final clay stage is begun as clay is applied to the armature. As work advances, the sculptor runs assessments. Often Rodin would halt work in mid stride at this point, particularly if he were working on a portrait. He would have a plaster squeeze mold made at this time. He felt this would prevent himself from undoing anything previously established in the clay and he could be free to experiment.

  8. The clay is completed. A plaster waste mold is constructed and a plaster positive is created. The clay stage is destroyed in this process.

  9. If the sculpture is to be enlarged from the study, a new armature is calculated to scale and constructed.

  10. The full scale clay model is created.

  11. If the model is to be shipped to a foundry located at a great distance, a hard copy needs to be prepared. The clay is sectioned with shims and coated with a Rodin-Rudier proprietary liquid parting agent. A mold is created. The Clay is dug out and the mold cleaned and re-touched.

  12. The negative mold is coated with a proprietary Rodin-Rudier parting agent. Thin plaster called a “water coat’ is painted into the waste-mold.

  13. Subsequent layers of plaster are built up and reinforced with fiber or cloth. The negative mold is carved and chipped away which leaves a plaster positive of the finished work. Any repairs are made to the final plaster original.

  14. The plaster or raw clay model is shipped to the bronze foundry or is retained in the sudio as a plaster reference for carving marble.

  15. A foundry mathematical drawing is prepared to map complex welding and stress points that will assist the foundry and the sculptor in creating the cast.

Snowden works on mold systems in the foundry

Steps in the Foundry

 

  1. At the foundry, the clay is cut into calibrated sections. Each section is marked and numbered. The clay parts are coated with a Rodin-Rudier proprietary liquid parting agent and the sculpture is cut or shimmed into sections. A plaster waste-mold is constructed.

  2. The plaster/clay is dug out of the plaster waste-mold and the mold is hence cleaned and re-sculpted/sharpened/carved in its negative interstices.

  3. A Rodin-Rudier proprietary parting agent is formulated and employed - such as the historic formulation that includes multiple substances. The agent is painted into the plaster negative mold before the wax is poured.

  4. Over the years, the basic molding process has employed flexible rubber or a Rodin-Rudier proprietary rubber-like substance in place of the plaster mold, to capture the form of the original model when multiple casts are anticipated. Today, this tends to be a two-part cold pour silicone formula used for molding contemporary hot wax, but the Rodin proprietary mold is still followed by Snowden in certain instances.

  5. Hot wax is poured into the mold which creates a wax positive. (Rodin’s proprietary wax, “Cire de Memoire’ is employed: M.L. Snowden has up-dated this formula which was developed in Paris to counteract the brittleness of standard foundry wax. Snowden has improvements to the wax that makes the under-cuts of her complex forms and detail possible and eliminates the need to re-piece wax parts due to breakage.

  6. The wax is completely had re-worked to eliminate flaws. The sculptor personally undertakes this stage that may require may hours of painstaking work to sharpen and realign detail.

  7. Wax rods called sprues are melted into place to create an arterial system around the sculpture so that molten bronze will run into every crevice and sculptural detail. The work is reinforced with wax gating and wax pour cups that are melted into position. Wax wall thicknesses are measured.

  8. The wax is “invested; or coated with a ceramic shell substance and layered with powder containing zircon.

  9. The shell is allowed to dry and cure.

  10. Under high heat, the wax is melted out of the shell creating a hollow negative space within the shell.  Snowden’s shells are baked in large ovens.

  11. The shell is further prepared and buried into sand.

  12. Molten bronze is prepared via its proprietary formulation within the crucible. The wall thickness of the wax, now a negative space within the shell, is calibrated to a correct temperature of bronze through thermal readings. Since M.L. Snowden’s bronzes like Rodin’s bronzes are gravity poured, the temperature of the metal running into the shell determines the successful formation of complete sculptural detail.

  13. When cool, the shell is broken away from the bronze.

  14. The bronze arterial sprue system is sawed away from the sculpture

  15. The sections of the sculpture are welded back into place.

  16. All seams, interstices, sprue mounds, holes, etc., are filled, welded, and pounded out of the metal in the process known as “chasing” over the course of a considerable period of time.

  17. The finished work is sand blasted and hand rubbed to a mirror smooth finish. The art of the patina a closely held historic Rodin atelier formulation developed by the historic patineur George Fournier is used solely in the works of M.L. Snowden and gives the bronze its final luster and color.

  18. The bronze is waxed and glazed with unique compounds.

  19. The sculpture is mounted with welded bronze/stainless steel pins and fastened onto its drilled plinth.[1]

 

 

[1] Ibid. M.L. Snowden: The Rodin Tools,  Posidonos Books

M.L. Snowden creates new forms through dynamic welding techniques

© 2018 M.L. SNOWDEN C/O THE M.L. SNOWDEN INSTITUTE

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