I've been engrossed in a special project since the start of the year. Only a few local friends know what I’m up to. But I want to share the details with you before I go entirely public - because you – my readers - are valued and trusted constant contacts. Over time, I've shared a lot with you – worry, outrage, hope, humor, and comfort. Today I want to tell you about a dream I'm making come true every time I pick up a handful of clay.
Some of you will remember that we evacuated our home in the mountains as the Caldor Fire consumed 220,000 acres of the Sierra. Upon returning and assessing the damage (relatively minor for us, considering) and once again feeling comfortable, I started to think about the thousands of people – firefighters, law enforcement, neighbors, volunteers from throughout the state – who stepped up to save thousands of homes in communities threatened by the fire.
I'd written several blogs while evacuated. I was on the phone with fire officials and organizations actively working to get us all through a harrowing experience. I knew that countless volunteers and nonprofits kept abandoned animals safe, empty homes secure, evacuated families fed and sheltered. That fire crews fought around the clock to keep the wild, fast-moving fire contained and away from our neighborhoods.
Soon after we all returned, handmade signs appeared along our winding roads, tacked to trees and fences, expressing appreciation for firefighters and other heroes that made it possible for us to have a home to return to - signs that would soon fade in the sun and run in the rain. And knowing that our gratitude would last a lifetime, but those heartfelt messages would soon be gone, I got the idea of creating a public monument in bronze – a tribute to stand for generations.
The concept turned into a plan that today is well along and looking down the finish line. Four panels will be erected on a granite stone base and stand about six feet tall. Each panel depicts an aspect of the Caldor experience – Firefighters, wildlife threatened by the blaze, Native American fire managers and fighters, and air support. It will be the bronze project of my lifetime – more challenging, complicated, and crazy expensive. I was undeterred by these realities. As I write to you, I have all four panels nearly formed in clay – the first in a series of steps toward completion of the "Tribute to the Heroes of Caldor."
Here's the process: I use an oil-based clay that never hardens and apply it onto smooth, thin boards. Using my hands and metal sculpture tools, I create images "in relief" on the surfaces, starting with general forms and working toward details that I hope convey feeling and meaning. I have not counted the hours spent in my studio, bent over the boards. I haven't logged the time because sculpting is not work - it's my joy. I feel only gratitude
that, late in life, I discovered a modest ability to make something beautiful from no more than an idea.
But this week marks the start of phase two of sculpting for bronze – the demanding process of making a mold of each panel. I'm very lucky to have help from a local friend and master mold maker, Don Demeno who comes out of his retirement to help me - because the process requires patience (not my strong suit) and decades of experience (even at my age, I'm a novice). First, we'll cover the panel of the firefighters in several coats of urethane – pouring and brushing until the clay is encased in a thick yet flexible slurry. After it hardens, we pull it from the clay. The next step is to melt big pots of casting wax and pour several thin layers into the mold. Once cooled and hardened, the wax is pulled from the mold, and I'll start working with wax tools and heat to make the images as perfect as possible.
Once the wax panels are finished to my satisfaction, I'll do some traveling to a bronze foundry near San Francisco. I'll hand over the panels, and foundry experts with highly specialized skills will take the project from wax to metal. (If you're interested in that awe-inspiring and ancient process, here's a link to my website page, where it's explained in detail.) It takes weeks for the prep process at the foundry to be complete and ready for the final bronze pour. While I wait for that dramatic moment, I'll be doing the least pleasant part of my crazy idea – raising funds through social media and corporate appeals to pay a giant foundry bill.
I usually don’t show work-in-progress because I’m changing and adding up to the last minute. And, it’s challenging to visualize dull clay transforming into timeless bronze. But I decided I’d like to expose this work-in-progress to all of you. I already share so many thoughts and dreams with you each week – why not the biggest one in my life as a grateful mountain dweller who enjoys nothing more than playing with clay?
Thanks again for reading Down Darby Lane - I hope your spring brings you peaceful and joyful moments - feelings we all deserve and actually need to handle the many challenges life delivers to us. Extra thanks to the friends who sent me lovely and encouraging emails last week as we celebrated the Vernal Equinox. I love to hear from you - at firstname.lastname@example.org .