Saturday, March 29, 2008

Artists’ Outpost

March 23-27, Little Harbour
In 1952 a sculptor and professor named Randolph Johnston brought his family to a small cove at the south end of the Sea of Abaco called Little Harbour to escape the self-destructiveness of society. He built a beachside foundry where he could create lost-wax bronze sculptures. His son, Pete, now carries on the sculpting tradition.

The first time we came to Little Harbour in 1992 you could only visit the offbeat community, including a high-end gallery, by boat. Now tourists arrive by car and the formerly funky open-air restaurant, Pete’s Pub, has acquired a mainstream patina. It’s still a great place to hang out, though!

Our previous visits had never coincided with the fascinating process of a bronze pour in the foundry. Rava, a very charming French artist who was Randolph’s last apprentice, did most of the work, along with an assistant. They joked around with us and explained every step of the process. Chunks of copper had been heated to 2000 degrees throughout the morning. We got there around noon and watched as they geared up in full protective spacesuit-like outfits, donning different helmets for different steps in the sequence. They added pieces of lead, then tossed several glass bottles into the bubbling mixture in order to attract impurities so that slag could be skimmed off the top. Finally they pulled blistering hot silica molds from a kiln, carefully hoisted the fire-orange crucible out of a flaming cauldron, and poured the molten metal into each mold, an extremely dangerous procedure.
An hour later we returned to witness the next step. Rava dunked the molds in a barrel of water to cool and cure them, then chipped away the molds. Everything turned out as intended; it was a successful pour. Incidentally, the lost-wax part of bronze sculpture comes into play as the silica molds are formed. Once the pour is finished and the molds destroyed, the sculptures are only about halfway through the labor intensive lost-wax process. But they are well on their way to becoming beautiful works of art.

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