Tactile Creations

UA Alumni Association, Jacob Chinn photo

On the west end of the UA campus students make their way to a small foundry in the School of Art. Here, they learn to make bronze and aluminum sculptures in a hands-on 3-D class.

“A lot of kids, they don’t do anything with their hands anymore, except punch buttons on their phone or computer. They don’t have tactile hand-eye coordination skills,” says Carlton Bradford ’86, associate professor of sculpture in the UA School of Art’s 3-D and extended media program. 

In Bradford’s class, students learn to use a soft materials — clay or wax — for wood and steel casting and the tools of 3-D art in the metals shop. 

“There are things that were done thousands of years ago, like casting, that are still relevant today. So people get the experience here,” Carlton says. “Plus, they like the show of it and the heat and the fire.”

At the start of class, Bradford gives his students a project: make a chess piece that is about 4 inches tall. The object is first sculpted in wax. Then the wax model heads to the foundry where it meets a vat of liquid ceramic material called silica ceramic. 

Students dip the wax form into the silica ceramic, then put it into a sand coat, repeating the process until they build up about a quarter-inch of thickness around the wax. At this stage, the object, which looks like a candy apple, is put into a burnout kiln where the wax is melted out. This mold-making technique is called the lost wax process. 

The remaining empty shell is fired to about 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, becoming very tough. Molten metal is poured in and, once it has hardened, 
out comes a metal duplicate of the original wax sculpture.