When the opportunity arose to learn about new technology, Merced artist Cheryl Barnett jumped at the chance to embrace 3D printing and laser scanners which can enlarge works to any scale and then seamlessly cast them into bronze.
The work titled “V for Victorious” is now on display at the El Capitan Hotel’s Courtyard and represents her yearlong learning process.
In 2018, when Barnett had retired after 35 years of teaching Design, Sculpture (bronze casting) and 20th Century Art History at Merced College, she headed to ARTWORKS Bronze Foundry in Berkeley.
“The only known obstacle was price,” Barnett says, “as the technology and process is still very expensive, but I had saved up some money and I really wanted to learn this new method to keep my sculpture business moving forward. …
“I selected a 31.5” bronze named “V” from my portfolio and decided to double her in size to 63” height. It took several months to scan her, digitize her measurements, and then reproduce her into 22 individual plastic sections using a 3D printer. I then assembled these 22 pieces of more intricate sections (that would have been difficult to reach with a weld later in bronze) and glued them together into 4 larger segments. These were hand dipped into hot sculpture wax that allowed me to smooth away the linear printed texture and imperfections.”
The artist continues: “The beauty of this method is the plastic sections melt out of the refractory ceramic shell molds in a hot kiln or autoclave, just like sculpture wax, allowing one to use the traditional bronze casting process. The hot 2000’ molten bronze is poured into these hollow molds, which are broken open later when cooled, sandblasted clean, feeder sprues and vents (that fed the various sections like plumbing) are cut off, followed by hours of grinding, welding, sanding & polishing. Each step of this process takes several days to weeks of labor, with the last step being patina. The metal is heated with a propane torch and ferric nitrate is sprayed and brushed onto the hot metal to oxidize rich red undertones in the bronze that is then preserved with a wax finish. It is a very expensive process because it is so labor intensive with costly materials. …
Barnett started out as a patina specialist at Artworks Foundry in 1985 after completing her master’s degree in Sculpture and then never left, even after getting a teaching position at Merced College in 1988. She kept her art studio right next door to the foundry and spent weekends, holidays and summers producing bronze works while showing at The Eleonore Austerer Gallery in San Francisco and Palm Desert for 20 years, until Austerer’s passing.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle to being a successful artist?
Barnett replies, “Believing in yourself. Eleonore Austerer taught me to trust and believe in my artistic vision and together we launched a very successful art career. I’ve always been driven to produce, and I was so fortunate that she was selling my works all over the world. Currently, I have over 450 works in 11 countries in private and corporate collections, thanks to Eleonore.”
What are you working on next?
Says Barnett: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent the past year in my home studio and sculpture garden designing small scale works for enlargement. As an Art Historian, I lectured on numerous sculptors who spent the last decades of their lives working with fabricators to enlarge their works. I want to work smarter, not harder. I am just waiting for enough of the state to be vaccinated to safely start working closely with fabricators in steel – a material that is a fraction of the cost of bronze, which will open more potential for future sales. I have numerous fine art and whimsical garden designs ready for steel in all scale, plus a few waxes ready to go back to the Foundry.”
What was the best part of working with the El Capitan Hotel?
“Besides having a sculpture that I am proud to share with my hometown community, the experience introduced me to a great art consulting firm out of Denver, NINE dot ARTS, who places works all over the country. I’ve listed 12 of my pieces in their portfolio for future 3D enlargements. I’m hoping this is the beginning of new opportunities, but only time will tell. This art consulting firm, along with investors were instrumental in helping select many of the wonderful local artists that are now proudly shown in the Hotel, the Mainzer and the Tioga. We are so fortunate as a community, there are those who love Merced enough to invest in our future and revitalize Main Street. It makes me so happy and proud to see downtown come to life again.”
How does one reach you if they are interested in seeing new works?
Barnett said, “My webpage is barnettsculpture.com and it has a contact page. Thank you.”