George Danhires will be putting the finishing touches on his Bicentennial Sculpture in the next week — in time to debut it at the annual Art in the Park.
The bronze sculpture will be 6 feet by 4 feet and weigh about 550 pounds when completed. It will be set in its final resting place on park land between the Pufferbelly restaurant and the downtown gazebo on Franklin Avenue.
There will be a dedication ceremony during the 134th anniversary of the Main Street bridge on Sept. 25. You can get a sneak peek, however, during Art in the Park at Fred Fuller park on Sept. 11 where the sculpture will be on display before installation.
The sculpture has been done in a style known as relief, which means that the artwork looks like a wall of bronze with figures and other images emerging out from the wall.
The images coming forth from this bronze wall (which is only about a quarter inch thick!) survey Kent's history from the Native Americans, to early settlers, to the Underground Railroad, to John Brown, to John Davey, to a city revolving around information and technology.
This is all I can safely say about the piece as the final product will remain a mystery until it is installed.
This sculpture was commissioned by the Kent Bicentennial Commitee as part of its last act regarding the yearlong string of bicentennial celebrations held in 2006.
No, that wasn't a typo, the sculpture was commissioned in 2006 and underwent a tumultuous series of events halting production until John Idone, Kent Parks and Recreation director, agreed to take over the project.
As a result, Danhires has been working on this sculpture for about the past seven months.
Danhires, with his down-to-earth demeanor, is a master at replicating the human figure. He is interested in how things are put together — whether it is the human body, a mold, a painting, Kent's history or our human explanation of reality.
In the painting featured in this article, Danhires was fascinated with overlapping the old idea that angels held the universe together and the modern string theory of the universe being held together by cosmic "strings."
In this painting, Danhires painted himself holding a world of water together with strings while angels float around the perimeter and keep the water in tact. "Water is the ethereal media. We are all water," Danhires said.
In his commissioned pieces he is interesed in making art that "has some kind of social redemption in it."
Once all the thought work is done with these commissions, then comes the laborious process of casting the artwork in bronze. Danhires made the bicentennial bronze sculpture using a rigorous and time-consuming process called lost wax casting.
Danhires got hooked on this process of casting in his undergrad work. He likes "developing the bronze into something better than the wax."
First, Danhires made the piece, exactly as you will see it, from oil clay. He then made a mold and, after taking out the clay, refilled the mold with hot wax.
Once the wax cooled it was in the same shape as the original clay artwork. He divided this wax into two pieces to create a more manageable size to cast.
That's right, most of the large bronze sculptures you see are cast in pieces that are reassembled later. It's pretty fun for a sculptor to look at bronzes and try to find the seams. When you see this piece downtown, see if you can tell where the two pieces were joined together.
Danhires took these pieces of wax to the foundry, where the actual bronze was poured. This is where the wax was "lost." The wax was first submerged in plaster, then placed face down in an oven so all the wax could be burnt out.
After three or four days, when all the wax is "lost," the plaster piece is very hard on the outside and holds the shape that was once taken up by wax on the inside. Bronze is melted and poured into this plaster mold to create the final sculpture.
Of course it doesn't end here. After the final bronze is broken away from the mold, then comes the tedious work of grinding away imperfections, filing in holes and seamlessly attaching the two pieces together.
Danhires has been traveling up to the foundry for the last three weeks to complete all of this touch-up work.
Sculpture, for all its time and expense, it truly a labor of love that results in artwork that serves to remind us of all that has happened to bring us where we are today.
And Kent's Bicentennial Sculpture tells us, largely, how we as a community were put together.