The search of offshore art casting foundries (2)

With professor Wang’s help, we got in touch with professor Jiang from the School of fine art, Shanghai University. Professor Jiang teaches sculpting in the school. He was also very helpful. Through professor Jiang, we found out besides the foundry we visited a few days ago, there is another foundry in the vicinity of Shanghai they dealt with frequently. Professor Jiang also mentioned the quality problems of bronze castings they had in the local foundries. He openly admitted that should the artists be more involved in the process of foundry work, the quality would be better.

The other key person we met in Shanghai is Mr. Zan. Mr. Zan is the director of Chinese Bronze Co. Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Secretary of Art Casting Technical Committee of China Foundry Association. We met Mr. Zan at the cafeteria of the downtown campus of Shanghai Jiaotong University. Zan is very knowledgable about the history and current condition of Chinese foundries. He gave us a brief introduction of modern Chinese art casting. Contrary to what we believed, the antique bronze artifacts we saw in a lot of museums were not casted using the lost wax technique we know in the western world. Zan told us, in the 80’s, the association organized a seminar and invited a professor from US to be the instructor. Many members of the association participated in the workshop. Since then, the lost wax casting method was widely used for art casting in the country. We commented on the price difference between China and Canada. Zan frankly said he was not happy about the current situation. Because of the low price and tight schedule quoted, foundries had no budget for research and development. This would actually hinder the quality improvement. Zan also criticized the quality of the Chinese art casting foundries. But on the other hand, we were also very impressed with the capacity of Chinese foundries: a 108 tonne bell was recently casted for the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou. (Suzhou is only a half hour train ride away from Shanghai. We visited the temple later on, but the bell was not open for public yet at the time.) The casting was a cooperate effort of Chinese Bronze Co. Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a shipyard foundry from Wuhan, Hubei province.

After the meeting with Zan, Gino and I both felt we must pay more attention to the casting quality from now on. And we should pay more attention to the equipment in the foundries in the next visit.

One other major objective of this trip was to meet a key person – that is sculptor Lei Yixin. Lei’s name may not sound familiar to everyone, but if I say the sculptor who was selected for the “Stone of Hope”, the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument for the National Mall in Washington D.C., maybe more people would recall Lei and the controversies surrounded the selection of the sculptor for the monument over the last couple of years. That was how we first heard Lei’s name anyway. Gino has great admiration for Lei’s work. We made arrangement to meet Lei in Changsha, Hunan before we left Canada.

To Gino, the visit to Changsha was the most exciting thing of our China trip. He still talks about it now, after we have been back for over 1 month. Lei’s studio resembles a small assembly plant. As we walked in the gate, we saw sculptures everywhere in the yard, bronze, stone, stainless steel, resin… large, small… In Gino’s words, we were “blown away” by what we saw. We certainly had the feeling that the art of sculpting is more active in China than anywhere else in the world. Lei built a team of sculptors and workers around himself. This team undertook many projects and it is in the process of expanding. Lei proudly showed us his new studio blue print, which will be ready to move in this year. The new studio will be a true assembly plant. It will not only have offices, studios and workshops like the current one, it will also have a foundry there on the same site! This must be the ultimate dream of any sculptor.

Lei’s studio erected many sculptures in the city of Changsha. We spent half day in “Huangxing Guangchang” in downtown Changsha where some real life size figurative sculptures were installed along the pedestrian street. The sculptures blend in with the people walking on the street; show cases the life style in Changsha 100 years ago. Besides appreciating the artistic aspect of the sculptures, we also started to look at the casting quality closely. And problems started to surface.

The largest sculpture on this street is a 2-3 times life size figure: the monument of the national hero Huangxing. We couldn’t look at the sculpture very close because it is mounted on a high base. But we could still see the back leg of the sculpture was peeling off like a sheet of paper. On another sculpture, we saw a hole about the size of a loonie on the back, between the neck and the collar. There are also small cracks and defects shown on most of the sculptures.

(To be continued…)