Godzilla meets the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman in the ancient lost wax technique – the many faces of windjammer sailors

Yesterday I visited a sculpture being made at a fine art casting foundry on Sydney’s North Head at Manly. The work is being crafted using the lost wax technique, a traditional, ages-old method that will result in a timeless bronze. Each visit and each stage of the moulding and casting process brings surprises, most recently forms and colours that evoke the strangeness of a cast of characters from B-grade 1960s schlock-horror monster films such as Godzilla and even, in spirit, the hyper-real gigantic 50-foot woman.

The process is totally fascinating, entrancing and even a little alarming at the same time, especially if one imagines encountering these forms on a dark night.

The work, entitled Windjammer Sailors, will pay homage to the sailors who drove the great wind ships to carry their cargoes to ports around the world, especially to and from Australia, into the mid-20th century, well past their natural lives.

Details of the Windjammer Sailors cast, 2015

Detail of the clay cast for Windjammer Sailors, 2015. Photo by Zoe McMahon.

The sculptural work has been developed at the Australian Bronze foundry by artists Belinda Villani and Brett Garling, based on a sketch by Dennis Adams (1914–2001). At a time when many romantic souls celebrated the last of the great sailing ships, Adams sought passage with Finnish shipowner Gustaf Erickson’s anachronistic fleet that carried grain from South Australia’s ports. In 1934 Adams sailed on Herzogin Cecilie from Port Victoria to study art at London’s Royal Academy, returning to Australia in the summer of 1938/39 on Lawhill.

Romantic yet exciting and a little edgy in form, this work will explore the inherent danger of the sailing-ship era in a moment when master and crew wrestle with the helm in heavy weather. It is being given to the Australian National Maritime Museum through a donation to the ANMM Foundation.

Constructing the Windjammer Sailors - Australian Bronze foundry, 2015

Constructing the Windjammer Sailors – Australian Bronze foundry, 2015 – Photo by Zoe McMahon.

Windjammer sailors will be located outside the museum as part of a program to re-energise the museum’s external footprint, to highlight the history of trade and transport between continents and cultures, the site, wharves, rail tracks and historic vessels, and especially those who worked them.

Curatorial and photography staff are working with the artists and foundry to capture the highly skilled process of making the bronze sculpture in stills and interviews.

This six-month process – a modified lost wax technique – will see the sculpture refined and modelled, cast in positive and negative forms several times in various materials. The figures, initially modelled in clay, have already gone through several transformations, at times rendering the figure work barely recognisable from the original clay form, with its textured surface finish at this stage buried within layers of latex and hard exterior casings. The next steps will see materials such as ceramic, wax and bronze used in subsequent dipping and pouring processes.

If you’re interested in viewing the work, hearing about the process and seeing the sculpture taking shape at Manly’s historic North Head National Park, please join me this Wednesday 23 September for a tour to the foundry.

by Daina Fletcher, Senior Curator