Lost Wax Process page of HEVaSOF Gallery which sells african art like benin bronze and bronze statues cast using the lost wax process  
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 Lost Wax Bronze Casting Process
The Chief Ihama Bronze Works is a family business.  They have been Benin bronze casters attached with the royal families for centuries.  They use the lost wax process today, nearly identical to the way their ancestors cast bronze statues 500 years ago.  In this modern day, however, they like all the royal bronze casters have to make pieces for other than the royal family.  For you and me, that is a great thing!


Today the Benin Bronze Casters Guild makes their treasures for the general public, as well as official ceremonies. Increasingly locals with adequate resources are purchasing these amazing art works for home decor or collecting. You and I have the same opportunity now thanks to HEVaSOF.
These are some of the senior artists in the family, but everyone takes a part in one step of the process or another (and you will see a few other family members in the following pictures). 
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While there have been numerous innovations over the centuries, the same basic methodology has been used to cast bronze using the lost wax methodology since the 14th century.  The tools are largely the same.  They start with a clay form which gives the basic shape of the item.  This form is then covered with bees wax.  In this picture the artist is covering a base of hardened clay in bees wax. 
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Next the real art begins as the other elements of the design are added in bees wax.  In this intricate bust you can see that all of the detail of the face, clothing, beadwork, arms and hands, and crown are all done in wax.  The raw wax is warmed in the sun and painstakingly formed into the various components of the piece.  All of this work in wax is lost or melted away as part of the casting process.  Thus it is called the lost wax process.

Can you close your eyes and picture the Benin bronze casters molding the wax with similar wooden tools and skilled hands 500 years ago? Amazingly, this bust will become a spectacular and completely unique bronze statue - lets read on.

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Once finished the entire piece is coated in clay and then wrapped in wire of some kind and dried in the sun. 
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After it is dry it is placed into a fire pit.  They have used the wood of rubber trees for centuries, and continue with that practice today.  The heat is intense, and it both fires the clay and melts away the wax leaving an empty space between the initial clay mold and the outside form which leaves the shape of the wax as empty space.
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Next they melt brass.  Other metals are added to make bronze, but most pieces these days are brass.  They make fired clay pots to melt the brass in. 

It doesnt look like a benin bronze yet, but lets proceed with the rest of the process.

 

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This step has been modernized, somewhat.  Instead of a clay or wooden bellows made with animal skins and pumped by hand they use a small electric motor connected to a car battery to heat coals hot enough to melt the brass. 
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It is already hot and humid, but all this fire and coals really pump up the heat and the work is very taxing.  With the bronze in molten form, the wax melted out of the molds, the molds are set in sand and molten bronze is poured into the mold. 
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After the appropriate time has passed the cocooned benin bronze statues are taken out to finish cooling.
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Once cool the outside layer of clay and wire is cut and broken off and the painstaking work of getting all that baked clay off of the final benin bronze statues begins. 

They actually use a chisel and hammer for the big clay deposits, wire brushes and files are used to further clean and polish. 

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You might ask why don't they just soak it in water?  The problem is that this fired clay does not dissolve well in water After 500 years of making bronze statues they would have figured that one out if it were that easy.
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When all is said and done you have this extraordinary piece of art which is totally unique, and can never be exactly duplicated.  You might find similar bronze statues, and certain themes do run common amongst most of the artists.  But know that each piece has to follow the same detailed and laborious process and is unique. 

Because of the ancient technology and technique used you do not get quite the same finished product as a modern high tech brass/bronze work.  That imperfection is part of the beauty, individuality, and charm of these wonderful art works.

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We import and sell the finest unique African art, African masks, Plaques, and now Benin bronze.   We work directly with the best artists in historic S.W. Nigeria.  Suitable for home décor, office, or collectors, we invite you to enjoy these bronze statues and other bronze art works.