A Copper Alliance Member
Copper in the Arts
Fluid and Organic, Sculptor Gregory Leavitt's Work Sparks the Imagination
Leavitt, who got his start in Colorado, fell in love with the process of sculpture early on. “I met two sculptors in Aspen, Jim Selbe and Barry Petri,” he says. “They were creating some magical things and I said that's for me. I just had to learn how to do it."
In 1972 he moved to Pennsylvania to study, living on a beautiful estate which was also a nursery; inspiration was everywhere. "I started doing things which were Art Nouveau and horticulturally inspired. I had featured pieces at the Philadelphia Flower Show, it has continued to evolve from there."
When asked about his influences, Leavitt has many. Throughout his tenure, he has culled inspiration from his two personal mentors, Christopher T Ray and Bernie Brenner, and the legendary sculptors David Smith and Julio Gonzales. His wife Tiana and daughter Camille are also sculptors in their own right.
The creative steps for making a piece vary according to the client, Leavitt explains.
"Certain things need to be precise fits and others more expressive,” he says. “One of the most enjoyable things about sculpture is the process, and the process encompasses a tremendous amount of discovery."
Though Leavitt's work is fluid and organic, he does study certain forms to ensure that they are botanically correct. For a Paph orchid element he first traveled to Longwood Gardens to research them.
A recent large scale project was a 17ft one-ton Moko Waiwera Lizard created for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Water flows through a concrete trough, out the copper tongue, and into a basin. The glass eyes were made by Will Dexter at Taylor Backes studio. Constructed with heavy gauge copper, Leavitt uses a similar technique to the one used on the Statue of Liberty, where copper is formed over stakes and stretched.
Unlike most large scale sculpture, all of Leavitt’'s work is hand forged.
"It is the antithesis of something which has been cast,” adds Leavitt. “Where this is an additive process, the casting process is subtractive."
Leavitt is drawn to copper for its beauty and flexibility. "There's nothing like working with copper,” he added. “It's so wonderful the way it stretches in compound ways with direction and without hysterical energy."
Upcoming projects for Greg include a 10ft high daffodil sculpture for one of the pre-eminent daffodil experts in the world, Dr. Kathryn Andersen, a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Award. He is also working on a series of garden gates for an estate in Gladwyne, PA.
Greg Leavitt, Oley, PA, (610) 367-8867
Delicate Strength: The Filigree Work of Linda Brunker
Linda Brunker possesses a deft touch with her bronze figurative sculptures. Although her pieces are solidly cast in bronze, her open filigree pieces feel light and delicate.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, she studied at the National College of Art & Design, and received a degree in Fine Art and Sculpture. After twenty years of success she has found renewed inspiration in the arts community of Ojai, north of Los Angeles.
“My family was very supportive growing up,” says Brunker, who sold her first sculpture while still in college. Soon after, galleries in Ireland snapped up her work, in part because of their stunning visuals, and also because she was one of the few women casting bronze. Since then, her work has landed in private collections, and commissioned for public art and corporations in Ireland, England, Belgium and the throughout the U.S.
It is Brunker’s gift for intertwining the human body and natural elements like plants and animals that shapes her work.
“Isn’t it interesting that the pattern of veins on a leaf is so similar to the veins that carry blood to every cell in the human body?” she asks. Using the lost wax method, she painstakingly creates molds from leaves which she grows herself. These plants, grown to her specifications in terms of size and shape, take multiple molds to get the casting correct.
“The average thickness is about 1/4 inch,” she says. “However, it varies with my filigree work. In order to get the molten bronze to flow throughout the entire casting I sometimes make some points thicker to facilitate this.”The end result is a bronze sculpture which looks as light as air. “Bronze offers a greater flexibility and I can create fragile looking pieces which are actually very sturdy,” she adds. “It can assume any shape, any size. That’s my trademark, my style, this idea of fragile.” It’s certainly more work, for her and the foundry she uses, American Fine Arts Foundry in Burbank, California, but as she puts it, “I’m always pushing the boundaries of casting.”
And that drive extends to her patinas.
“Chemical patinas or the natural patinas that bronze develops with oxidization can have great depth and a natural subtlety that is of the earth and nature and hard to achieve with other materials,” she advises. And given that nature is a hallmark of her work, it’s appropriate that the patina reflect the organic aging process.
Though she has more male collectors, she’s notices that women identify with her work on a deeper, more emotional level.
“I find that people want to touch my bronze sculptures - it has a warm quality which encourages that,” she says. “Copper is a natural conductor and does retain heat and energy which might explain why some bronze sculptures seem to emit an energy all of their own.”
Foundry a la Femme
“Women don’t have foundries---I didn’t know about that when I got started [in 1998],” she says. “I wasn’t well-received by the men in the industry. It’s a down-and-dirty business--that’s the fact of the matter, but now it’s really evolved for me.”
As the owner of Frostad Atelier Foundry in Sacramento, Calif., she and her nearly dozen employees have since gained the golden reputation for precise quality, experience and service. But it wasn’t without a tough start, a couple burnt eyebrows, a broken elbow and an uber-supportive family.
“If I would’ve known in the beginning, how tough it was going to be, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it,” admits Frostad. “I had been commissioned to do two life-size pieces for a library and didn’t have the foundry then, so I had to take it somewhere else. When I was waiting and waiting for my work and it wasn’t coming back to me for my deadline, I told the foundry owner that I’ll work for free if you let me clean up the business end. He wound up leaving, and I met with his staff and just started pouring metal. Turns out his employees were the ones running the place.”
After the deadbeat owner did finally return, he claimed he couldn’t run a business with a woman, so Frostad promptly left, and opened her own small foundry. She moved to a bigger location, the former site of a World War II foundry that poured plane engines, which is where she is today. “I had a space and a handful of people that believed in what I do,” says Frostad. “I learned that it’s more than just doing art. You work as a shipping company and in structural engineering.”The former dental hygienist and mother of five is a self-educated painter/sculptor and she runs a tight ship with her team at the foundry. “I’m organized, clean, and the formula I use with my clients works,” says Frostad. “My employees are like my family. I can do every single process in my foundry and they know that and respect that. I may sculpt and have a foundry, but I’m nothing without this crew.”
Frostad and her talented crew have crafted, poured and patina-finished everything from boat parts to elaborate artwork. A few of their most recent projects include the installation of a bronze falcon with a 24-foot wingspan at a university in Ohio and specialized sculpture pieces for a garden at Stanford. Projects on Frostad’s personal plate are the sculpting of a double front door for a restaurant in Sausalito, bronze reliefs for an aerospace museum in Sacramento and a bust commissioned by a family. “Sculpting busts are my true joy,” she says, “and this one is emotional because it’s of a Vietnamese father who went missing in the Vietnam War.
“And one of the best works I’ve ever done are these heirloom cases commissioned by [Mike Nicolaou], who retired from Disney,” she adds. “He had a concept, we did the drawings and they’re amazing – ‘Eternal Guardians’ and the ‘Immortal Stallions.’ Oprah bought one.”
Everdur, the type of bronze Frostad uses for these projects, is what she calls, “the Rolls Royce of fine art. It’s 95 percent copper, and the cost of copper is killing me,” she says, “but it’s the longevity, it’s why we’re digging up art from 5,000 years ago and finding these things made out of this material. Doing this is what identifies who I am.”