Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Approaching 80 Years

As Modern Art Foundry nears eighty years in the fine art casting business, we have been working with Bob Spring, at Modern Art Foundry full-time since 1955, to collect his stories and memories of his life working for artists. In this Newsletter we would like to share a conversation between Bob and Patricia Bradshaw regarding the Alice in Wonderland monument by Jose De Creeft located on the east side of Central Park, north of the Conservatory Water at 72nd Street.

Artist José De Creeft was born in Guadalajara, Spain in 1884. He moved to the United States in 1929 and became a citizen in 1940. He had a long and successful career as both sculptor and teacher. Mr. De Creeft died in New York in 1982. 

The following is a summary of a conversation recorded in February 2011.            

Today, let us talk about the Alice in Wonderland sculpture located in Central Park.
De Creeft’s idea was that this monument needed to be very child friendly. The layout of the maquette had the statues and the composition so that children would be able to climb on the piece easily. Of course, it is dominated by Alice sitting on the mushroom. Alice is welcoming all to come up, sit with her, and look at the cat up in the little tree behind her with its silly grin. The mushrooms serve to support your climb up and allow you access to the sculpture.

Did the maquette come to the foundry full size?
We received the full size enlargement, which was created by the sculptors of that era who worked as professional enlargers. De Creeft supervised the enlargement and it was delivered to the foundry. 

Did you do any of the finishing or patina on it?
Yes. I got out of the service in 1955, so by the time that job came into the foundry I was already working in the finishing room. I did not do all of it, but I did some. I do remember finishing the big mushroom. It was cast in sections, and some of the welding was done on the inside. There was not enough room inside of the bronze for me use the mask with the dark glasses to protect my eyes from being burned, so I held the glass without the hood and I tack welded it. Little did I know, that the ultra-violet light was bouncing off the top of the bronze and into my eyes. I went home that night and in the middle of the night, it felt like I had sand in my eyes. It hurt so much the next day that I went to have them checked by my doctor. What happened was, my retinas were burned and I suffered for many years after that with night driving because it would give me headaches.

Was it delivered in one piece?
Yes. We have a number of foundry pictures of the work in our yard. One with the whole foundry staff that we have published a few times. When it was finished Mr. Delacorte, Mrs. De Creeft, and a number of city officials visited the foundry for final acceptance. My father was the foundry president and presented the work to those visiting, my brother John was there too. It was craned on to a flat bed truck and traveled through the streets of Queens. I think it went over the Triboro Bridge, down Second Avenue, then over to Central Park. Another crane was waiting there and they picked the whole thing up and sat it in place. We had prepared templates for the piece indicating where the pins would come out, holes were drilled into the concrete base, and it was dry fit to make sure it was ok. It was installed and we walked away. Later on, they had a ceremony. It has been there since and is a favorite spot for locals and tourists, and is a city sensation as far as I am concerned.

Do you remember any concerns about the public being able to climb on the work?
When the piece was completed, my job was to rub my hands all over the surface of the statue to check if there was anything sharp that somebody could scratch or cut themselves on. If anything was sharp – I had to matte it down. I actually touched every inch of the statue to make sure it was safe.

Any final thoughts?
It is obviously an historic and important part of New York City’s landscape. I believe Mr. De Creeft created a very successful public work and Modern Art Foundry has always been proud of having cast this work for him and the city.

MY LIFE INSIDE ART, Bob Spring's reflections on his fifty plus years of experiences in the art casting business, is being catalogued by Patricia Bradshaw.  Patricia is coordinating an on going collection process that includes interviews, journal writings, and recorded memories for publication in print, digital, and sound mediums. The above excerpt has been edited by Jeffrey Spring.

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