Friday, March 11, 2011
Scott Nelles grew up in SE lower Michigan, where his father, a manufacturers representative in the steel business, would take him on tours to visit steel mills and foundries.
His mother was a bit of an artist and his great grandfather was a professional wood carver from Bern, Switzerland.
At an early age, he would build things out of clay and wood and whatever he could get his hands on.
In 1974 Scott began his career in the foundry at the Fraser bronze of Seattle, there he started making patterns for buckles influenced by his experience in the leather business where bought and sold a lot of belt buckles. The buckles were then cast by John Fraser who also helped him to improve his methods.
With some years of practice and observation Scott moved to Michigan and opened his own foundry where between the years of 1978 and 2000 he built and grew the business to the point of employing four full time people and selling his sculptures nationwide. In 2000 he placed a small classified add in a foundry trade magazine to sell the patterns and the rights to make his line of products. A large foundry owner purchased the line and began producing it under the name Nelles Bronze Sculpture, up to our days.
The Art Inquirer contacted Scott Nelles who promptly agreed to dedicate part of his valuable time to answer some questions about his art and provide this blog's readers with an insightful interview.
TAI What part of your historical background led you to pursue an artistic career ?
SN As a boy growing up in SE lower Michigan I was exposed to industry through my father, a manufacturers rep in the steel business. He would sometimes take me on tours of steel mills and foundries and I believe the heat and flame got into my blood. As a kid I was always making things out of clay and wood and whatever I could get my hands on. My mother was a bit of an artist and my great grandfather was a professional wood carver from Bern Switzerland. I ,in fact still use many of his hand tools when I am working with wood to make patterns for castings.
TAI When did you decided that bronze would be your medium of election for you to pass your message and demonstrate your creativity ?
SN Early on I realized that clay was just not rugged enough to do the things I wanted to do. So I knew that cast metal was the way to go. However it's no small thing to set up a bronze foundry and I had no training anyway. It has taken many years to develop my skills through observation, trial and error and working with other foundries.
TAI What are your favourite themes and subjects, and why ?
SN Currently I have been concentrating on a line of cast toys. I love the art deco period and I believe my toy cars and such reflect that love. Like most artists my interests change and evolve.
TAI Please resume to us the development of a sculpture, from its conception to its finish.
SN I generally develop my works with some rough paper sketches or create them directly in three dimensions. Though I have utilized different techniques of casting such as the ,“lost was method”, I generally work in the ,“sand casting method”, which I believe has advantages in some areas. It is the sand casting method which I will describe here. To be a sculptor and founder of bronze entails many skills and the use of many materials. Some people work only in wood, others, clay or glass. I work in a variety of materials to develop a pattern or model of my sculpture to be. I might make this model with water based or oil based clays, some very soft and some very hard. I work in a variety of waxes to sculpt and cast. Other materials important in, "the pattern making stage", are wood, plastics and resins of all kinds, sheet metal and fabrication, welding and forging all come into play. When a concept is created in one of my materials or combination of materials I then need to make a series of molds of the original model. These molds can be made in plaster, various poured resin materials, or sand. Eventually I will have a final pattern made in a rigid material like polyurethane plastic or cast aluminum. Using this pattern which represents my original form ,I can make rammed sand molds in the foundry. It is these sand molds into which I cast the bronze or other metal. When the metal cools I shake the sand away and a rough casting of my original sculpture emerges. Many types of finishing operations follow including, cutting, belt sanding, die grinding, sand blasting, tumbling, oxidizing, polishing and lacquering.
TAI Which are the most commmon technical pitfalls that a beginner working in the same art is more likely to commit ?
SN Where could I start to answer other than to say, do not enter into this craft lightly. The foundry process is without question the most technically demanding craft there is. This is not like throwing a pot and sticking it into a kiln while you drink cappuccino. It involve a multiplicity of disciplines and it could be a very long time before you succeed. Having said all this though I would never discourage a truly ambitious person from actually doing it. I have devoted my life to this thing and I have met and been mentored by many very interesting and talented people. Our community of foundry folk is very small and I would be glad to help anyone I could in there quest. I would say start small, visit some foundries read some books get some equipment together and give it a go.
TAI You accept custom orders. Which themes are most the requested ?
SN I will accept custom orders but usually when they hear the price for a one of a kind bronze the phone goes dead. Where my process shines is in making multiple pieces ,where the development costs can be amortized over the whole job. So if we can make you a hundred sculptures I might be your man.
TAI Can you be contacted to provide workshops or personal instruction ?
SN I would be happy to provide instruction but, I am a full time working artist trying to make a living at my craft. I have no interest in wasting my valuable time with dilettantes or prima donnas.
TAI What kind of major work would you like to embrace and what are your projects for the near future ?
SN I would love to do large wall installation of my cityscape work, either cast aluminum or resin. I will also continue to create my cast metal toys for the near future.
TAI Are you artworks available for personal viewing ?
SN My art works are available for personal viewing in my studio gallery, art shows, or by viewing my web-site.
TAI What advices can you give to owners of bronze objects to maintain them in good conditions ?
SN Dust them, wax them, enjoy them.
Scott Nelles keeps developing an entirely new line of pieces showcased by the toy cars, boats, candlesticks and small animals that he now makes in his studio. This line of works as well as those created over the years are available for purchase from him and in galleries nationwide, and can be viewed at the Nelles Studios website.