“Until the Millenium arrives — the time when he receives a vast commission into which he can pour his deepest personal convictions — the sculptor must conceive and develop those convictions by experimenting with form and ideas.”– John Vassar House
The inner potential of individuals always finds a path to emerge in impressive ways, although many are suppressed by others, who disregard their talents or regard the true meaning of their ideologies as meaningless. Despite many adversities talent still finds a way to the limelight, but the bigger obstacle talented individuals face is the acknowledgement of their worth in the community. Display of unusual talent was pretty normal in olden times as it was the only means of expression. However, nowadays the regular hustle and bustle of life doesn’t permit the common man to carefully analyze their potential and explore their unique voice.
Amidst many creations sculptures are the most highly appreciated in the kingdom of art, because they hold the capacity to preserve history in a manner no other method can. Frequently used to create religious symbols, sculptures also allow a precise portrayal of certain events or ideologies such as the right to free speech. Let’s delve into the life of some well-known sculpturists like John Vassar House and his overall contribution.
John Vassar House born on February 19, 1926 – March 29, 1982, was a well-known American bronze sculptor known for his memorial and outdoor pieces. He was a well-known bronze sculptor who was skilled in the lost wax casting process. Over the course of his career, he produced a portfolio of sculptures that embellished a number of foreign locales, showcasing profound cultural understanding and capturing the influence of his stays in other cities.
Spanning great excellence in the realm of commemorative art, John Vassar House overall shared a diverse and extensive career that spanned several decades, showcasing versatility and evolution in bronze sculpting. Based in Rome, Italy, since 1957, he operated his own studio where he crafted wax sculptures destined for casting in Italy and shipment, mainly to the United States. His artistic repertoire encompassed figurative, organic, and abstract bronze works, with a specialization in both outdoor and indoor sculpture projects.
The sculpture voyage of John Vassar House was characterized by a fascinating range of periods, each distinguished by unique styles and mediums. John Vassar House’s progression in stone (1953–1954) and his investigation of organic themes in “Pods, Seeds, Birth” (1959–1964) demonstrated his depth of creativity, as did his early reliefs (1950–1970) and welded sculptures of the 1950s. His versatility was demonstrated by the sculptures of vertebrae (1960–1961) and the flowing “Wave” series (1960–1970). His growing artistic vision was evident in the shift to figurative works (1960–1978) and the architectural investigations in “Bridges” (1962–1965) and “Phalanx” (1965–1974). John Vassar House’s devotion to pushing creative boundaries was evident in the following phases, which included “Rollers, Seals, Wheels” (1966–1971), “Passage” (1970–1975), and “Laminations” (1970–1977). The incorporation of letters and numbers in “Cantilever and Circuit” (1972-1979) and the thematic exploration of Columbus and towers (1973-1976) and Wedges (1975-1979) further enriched the diversity of his sculptural legacy. Each phase represents a chapter in the narrative of John Vassar House’s artistic exploration and the evolution of his distinctive voice in the world of sculpture.
When in Rome, John Vassar House experimented the above phases while experimenting the industrial technicalities of the wax models and casting process of bronze. Years of experience in the many foundries in Rome allowed him to reach a recognized level of precision with his constant wax thickness so to ensure complete casting with no failures while keeping his external typical texture of his sculpture.
John Vassar House summarizes the complex process for large bronze casting as follows:
- Agreement of the approved model in the agreed size;
- A full-scale model of the work is made of plaster ensuring texture on the external surfaces;
- The model in B is cut into segments (also to avoid undercuts) which can be cast in metal;
- A mold (also of plaster) is made of pieces from step C (the full-scale plaster model pieces are destroyed after the work is finished so that it cannot be reproduced);
- The mold from Step D is used to prepare wax/resin model of each piece. These are hollow and are carefully prepared and weighed for they represent the finished casting. Each piece is gone over by a craftsman who corrects any flaws where the wax model does not exactly match the mold;
- The wax/resin model is encased in a plaster-clay type substance (both inside and outside). Channels of wax are prepared in the plaster-clay substance to vent and provide ducts to carry molten metal to all parts of the mold;
- This entire plaster-clay mold encasing the wax/resin model is encased in a ceramic material which is bound with metal bands and then buried in dirt. It is then heated and the wax/resin burned out;
- The mold is then filled with molten bronze and allowed to cool. The encasing material is broken away, excess metal from the channels are removed and the casting is smoothed to its finished texture where required. (Molds from step D are destroyed).
- The pieces are assembled and welded together, welds are smoothed so that they become invisible and the desired patina is added.
- The finished product is crated and shipped to its destination.
- Steps A and B are performed by the sculptor;
- Steps C and D are performed by the mold maker under the supervision of the sculptor;
- As each individual mold in D stage is completed it is sent to the foundry who completes Steps E through H;
- Step I is a joint undertaking by the sculptor being in charge and having final say;
- Step J is, the last step and is performed by another organization specializing in that type of work.”
The following records are a narration of John Vassar House himself displaying the experimenting of his bronze casting work
First Casting Record
“My casting came back from the foundry. Finally, It’s in good shape, although like everything else I’ve made, I now can see a half a dozen alterations + variations that would have improved it. It’s incredible: this is the only thing I’ve cast since being in Italy (+ it’s the first casting I’ve ever had, except for small solid things I’ve cast myself). As soon as I finish working on the patina, a photo should be on the way for your scrutiny.”
On centrifugal and Vacuum Casting
“I’m casting in centrifugal caster that I found for a guy with a flask 11” hi +5 172” wide. Your catalogue of new sizes 8”x5” is nice to know about, however, Thanks. The “cristobalite” (sp?) (i.e. special refractory plaster) is damned expensive. However, with the vacuum system the casts certainly do come out clearly, hence require less man hours of labor so overall the casts may be about the same by either system, but the results clearly favor the centrifugal for quality.
Casting is a Moment of Suspense
“This very morning the foundry, out on the edge of town (Rome)is pouring the casting, in fact. It is always a moment of suspense, because I built the thing, as usual, directly in wax, and have had no form made in plaster from which a copy may be made in case of casting failure (this, not for laziness, but from cost and difficulty of execution). By tomorrow afternoon I should hear the results, after the metal has cooled and the workers cleaned off the refractory plaster that is inside and outside all the forms. It’ll take 3 weeks of foundry-finishing by two workers to get the piece finished and ready for air freight to Dallas.”