Bronze’s durable beauty makes it unique among artistic media. But not all bronzes are created equal. There’s a lot of variation out there and it pays to know what you’re looking at and what you’re investing in.
I’ve found there are four common characteristics of lost-wax bronze that are worth keeping in mind. We came up with a handy little acronym for thinking about bronze quality: FACT
Not all foundries have the same capabilities. Some specialize in smaller work while others can produce monuments. Most specialize in lost wax casting processes while others use injection molding. Location may be important, too — whether located in the US or abroad, quality and reputations can vary.
The metal used in the lost wax casting process varies from foundry to foundry and country to country. In the US, most sculptural bronze is silicon bronze, consisting of 95% copper, 4% silicon, and 1% manganese. European bronze often contains 85% copper, 5% tin, 5% lead, and 5% zinc. All of my work is produced using US silicon bronze.
I’ve been told that European bronze is slightly more susceptible to something called bronze disease, but given the timescale of the disease, it’s unlikely to impact your enjoyment of a piece (or your kids, or your grandkids, or your great grandkids, and so on…)
Look for a near-perfect execution to the piece. All bronzes need to be chased (ground and welded) after pouring. There should be no seams visible from the metal chasing, for example.
For total quality, excellence must carry through each stage of the lost wax process: from a good initial mold and excellent wax chasing to precise metal chasing and a fantastic patina.
Like the spices that accent a fine meal, finishing touches are crucial to overall aesthetics. Look for a patina that complements the form and feeling of the piece. The patina also protects the bronze. Make sure the patina contains UV blockers, for example, that will prevent the colors you love from changing over time.
Other touches that can enhance the sculpture experience include custom bases and base materials that harmonize with the piece, as well as turntables that allow the appreciation of all aspects of the piece.
You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate bronze sculpture, but I think a little background information can deepen our enjoyment of almost any subject!
If you’d like a quick video tour of the many stages of lost-wax casting, visit my About Bronze page.