Artist Gets 'Lost' in Bicentennial Sculpture

George Danhires puts finishing touches on Bicentennial Sculpture for downtown Kent

George Danhires will be putting the finishing touches on his 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 on park land between the  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 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, 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.  

This work has been done at Studio Foundry in Cleveland. Danhires has known the founders of this studio since the 1980s. Two are graduates of . 

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.

Jim Greene September 04, 2011 at 02:31 PM
I was down tow the other day and saw what looked like several pieces of stone standing between the Pufferbelly and the gazebo. I wondered what it was for. This article tells me the answer. It will be neat to see all of Mr.Danhires work.
Barbara Myers September 04, 2011 at 07:16 PM
I look forward to seeing this installation when I'm in Kent at the end of this month.
Kasha Legeza September 06, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Thanks for explaining the fascinating lost wax casting process!
Laura Davis September 06, 2011 at 06:30 PM
George Danhires' commitment to imbuing his commissioned works with "some kind of social redemption" has been well carried out in the bicentennial sculpture. Seeing the faces of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer in a photo of the piece was startling and moving. At that moment I believed for the first time in four decades that reconciliation between the city and the campus over May 4 might some day be possible. Laura Davis


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