Bronze Age is a fully functioning foundry, design studio and art gallery in Woodstock founded in Simonstown in 1997. Their Woodstock Foundry was established in 2011 and the entire operation moved there. Headed by Otto du Plessis and Charles Haupt, the Bronze Age team consists of 28 skilled crafters who work with artists like William Kentridge, David Brown, Brett Murray, Dylan Lewis, Bruce Arnott and Wim Botha to create everything from large sculptures to bespoke jewellery pieces. They also do commissions and have their own range of once-off and limited edition furniture pieces and trademark bronze bowls. Some of the artworks they cast can be seen in their art gallery. We paid a visit to this foundry/studio/gallery to find out how they do it all:
Please tell us about your backgrounds and how it led you to Bronze Age.
Otto: I went to Pro Arte (an art, music and ballet school) and have always had an interest in sculpture. I studied marketing, worked as modeller for a plaster company and as an apprentice for Sculpted.
Charles: I studied industrial design in Cape Town after which I worked in an art foundry in London for 2 years. This is where my interest in art and sculpture started. On my return to South Africa in 2005 I joined Bronze Age to help start what is now our design studio, where I really enjoy the blend between art and design.
How did you pick the spot that now hosts Bronze Age. Did you always intend for this to be a multi-functional space consisting of a design and sculpting studio, a bronze casting foundry and art gallery?
Bronze Age consisted of an art gallery, sculpture and design studio as well as an artist residency when we were still in Simonstown. We wanted to move closer to town and found the current location where we (as a group of investors) developed the Woodstock Foundry. Basically we moved and duplicated what we had in Simonstown here.
What does a regular day at the foundry/gallery/studio consist of?
The foundry is busy every day with production moulding, casting and finishing bronzes for our own functional art range and for other artists. The gallery does sales, deals with designers and clients for functional art orders and commissions as well as send out orders. The studio works on new designs, manufacturing and creating new products, sculptures and commissions.
Please take us through the casting process at Bronze Age.
The method we used is called ‘lost wax casting’. The artist brings us a sculpture (made out of any material) and the first step is moulding this sculpture with silicon rubber and a fibreglass backing. The mould will then go to the wax department where a wax copy of the original piece will be made. The wax seam-line will get worked away by hand, the piece will be cut in manageable sections and a feeding system in wax will be soldered on. The wax will go through a quality check for approval.
A ceramic shell mould will then be made around the wax by dipping the wax in a ceramic binder followed by the first layer of zircon sand, two layers of chamotte medium grain sand and two layers chamotte large grain sand before getting sealed with a binder. Every layer needs to dry so to dip a wax can take a couple of days. Then the wax gets melted out of the shells, the shells gets fired like pottery to get rid of all the wax and carbon.
The bronze gets melted and poured into red hot ceramic shell moulds. Once cooled the shell gets removed and sandblasted to get rid of any shell stuck on the surface. The bronze pieces will then be assembled and welded and worked to a final finish. The last step is to patinate (oxidize) the bronze with chemicals to give it a colour and then sealed with a durable wax to prevent it from oxidizing.
Why do you use this process?
Lost wax is more suited for three dimensional pieces. The lost wax process retains fingerprint details while sand casting has a slightly textured surface (due to the sand).
Which artists have you built a relationship with and what makes their specific pieces challenging and rewarding to cast?
Brett Murray and Wim Botha are some of our regular artists. Their work is completely different; Brett’s work is highly polished and Wim’s pieces are very difficult shapes and textures.
Which artists would you want to work with in future?
Maybe with Mark Quine? We are collaborating with the Haas Brothers soon.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Creating something new every day.
What are you working on at the moment and what are you working on next?
Otto is working on a couple of projects: pre-Haas moulding, a diver monument for Simonstown, creating new stock for our Watershed store, completing a console and coffee table for Stephen Rich and working on a sculpture range for West Elm.
Charles is busy with quite a few architectural projects this year involving a lot of textured brass and copper wall installations. Besides that he is working on a custom brass and bronze chandelier as well as a prospective brass bar and a few other smaller projects. He will also be reworking one of our Southern Guild pieces for the opening show in November.
Find Bronze Age at the Woodstock Foundry, 150 Albert Road, Cape Town.