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The Shaw Memorial by Saint-Gaudens

       On a late summer day in August, I had the opportunity to view Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Shaw Memorial in its current state of conservation. The Patina is getting a restoration at Skylight Studios in Woburn, MA, while the brick and concrete base is under repair due to water damage. The conservators are also addressing issues with water drainage on the bronze itself. Seeing how much labor, craftsmanship, and planning went into mechanically joining a bronze in the 19th century was enlightening. The last time the back of the bronze saw the light of day was at its installation in 1897. It was only a guess of how the bronze pieces fit together until now.

     Eleven large, panel-like sections, consisting of the background and angel, soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th, and the ground plane, form the expansive relief backdrop. The top half comprises only two parts, with six sections dividing the soldiers and three sections dividing the ground. The in-the-round pieces, such as some rifles and Shaw’s sword, were cast separately and attached later. Unlike the large panel sections, Shaw and the horse are made of several smaller pieces and attached to both the back and ground panels. To enable access inside the horse for joining pieces together, the foundry workers incorporated a large hollow section into the back panel, which remains hidden from view at the front. The panel sections, delineated by red lines, are visible in the first photograph above.

     Before the invention of arc welding, bronze sculptures were fastened similarly to the woodworking joints of a mortise and tenon that are sometimes pinned by doles running through both joints. During the wax stage, foundry workers adhere wax flanges to wax pieces, designing them to "key" or register with adjacent pieces. After casting in bronze, these flanges would align seamlessly, albeit with an expected amount of adjustment, and then be fastened securely with bronze bolts. For the panel sections, a flange runs along the entire edge of the piece and is keyed and bolted to every piece it comes in contact with. Circular flanges are required in certain areas to securely fasten an in-the-round section into another, notably at the contact point between the horse's hooves and the ground panels.

     After the sections were secure, foundry workers would then "chase" the seems, filing and filling the bronze until the seem lines disappeared. The photograph above shows these joints as the Shaw Memorial lies on its back, undergoing preparation for conservation.


August 2020

August 2020

Process Tour Examples 

Commissioned by Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, the park utilizes the process tour as an example to demonstrate how bronze sculptures are created. The six pieces correspond to the materials and processes used in the lost wax process: clay, rubber mold, wax, ceramic shell, bronze, and a finished bronze sculpture.
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