One of our favorite things about the work we do at Great Lakes Art Studio is tackling new and artistic challenges. One of the more recent challenges we’ve faced was creating six, large bronze planters for Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The process began about four years ago when a landscape architect approached us with the task of designing three 3-feet wide bronze planters that would match an existing bronze mural dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces.
Although the planters were supposed to have a simple, smooth round shape, the project was complex because they were so massive and each one needed to be identical.
Before we began, I headed out to Soldier Field to take a look at the bronze mural. Dedicated in November 1925, the mural depicts soldiers and their families in front of the Chicago skyline, cast in beautiful detail in a rich, chocolate-colored bronze. I took photos of the patina of the mural, so I could accurately replicate the same shade on the new planters a few weeks later.
Back in the studio, Richard and I began making a model of the new vessels out of clay. We started by shaping the base on the pottery wheel, and then added more clay to the sides, making it taller as we went. To ensure that the sides were uniform, we built a 5-foot wide wooden platform that spun around, so we could see the model from all directions.
Once we had the clay model finished, we made a sturdier plaster mold, and then a third mold out of sand, which we then used to cast the shape in hot, molten bronze.
Finally, it was time to match the patina of the planters with the original patina on the mural. To change the color of bronze, minerals from the earth such as ferric nitrate or sodium thiosulfate are combined with water, and then sprayed onto the sculpture before using a blow torch to accelerate the oxidation process. The heat creates a chemical reaction with the minerals, causing the metal to change colors.
I love this part of the process because I feel like a painter, using my instincts to create just the right mixture of minerals to create the shades we desire.
Despite all of the new technologies available in the world, when it comes to creating a sculpture out of bronze, we use the same methods that artisans have been using for centuries. Every time I build a sculpture with my hands or create a mold out of sand or wax, I feel as if I’m connect to the ancient Egyptians or ancient Greeks, who did the exact same things thousands of years ago.
In the end, the planters were delivered to the stadium, and now they stand as proud sentinels along the walkway to the memorial. I hope you can check them out the next time you’re at a Bear’s game!