From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
100 Years in the Making: Pangolin Editions' Steve Maule
In February 22nd's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 111, host Theo Mayer spoke with Steve Maule, a director at Pangolin Editions. One of the largest and most advanced art foundries in the world, Pangolin plays a crucial role in bringing the National Memorial to life. Mr. Maule provides us with incredible insight into that process. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: Welcome to "A Hundred Years in the Making," our segment specifically about the national WWI Memorial that we're building in Washington D.C. This ongoing series of reports and interviews provides our listeners with rare insider view into the intricate and complex process of creating a national memorial. As many of you know, a center piece element of the memorial is a giant bronze sculpture called "A Soldier's Journey' by sculptor Sabin Howard, whose been on the show several times talking about his own journey in creating it. There is another aspect in creating a giant bronze sculpture, especially those very rare works of this size. At some point the artist's vision needs to become manifest in metal, and of course you don't take out a giant block of bronze and a chisel and hammer and sculpt away. A bronze sculpture is cast from molten metal in a mold. You can start to imagine the scale, scope and challenges of doing that for something that's 7 ft tall and 60ft wide. This kind of work is done in a foundry, and there are very few in the world that are able to take on a sculpture the size the WWI Memorial sculpture. With us today is Steve Maule, the director of one of the most esteemed and advanced foundries in the world. Located just north of Bristol in the United Kingdom, its called "Pangolin Editions". Steve, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the podcast.
Steve Maule: Thank you Theo, great to be here with you guys.
Theo Mayer: So, Steve, tell us a little bit about Pangolin Editions. What kind of work does the company do and maybe you can describe the physical plant a bit as well, and the history?
Steve Maule: Well primarily we're a foundry that works solely on artwork. Most people imagine a foundry as being heavy industry cutting the pieces of engineering. We only focus upon art. We're by far the largest foundry in the U.K. We started a little over 35 years ago, very humbly in the back garden of our founders green house, in the back garden of their parents' home. We have now grown to be a little under 200,000 square feet. We have a team of 180 craftsman and women, so we've grown to meet a need of a burgeoning art world, and one where they continue to find bronze an enduring material.
Theo Mayer: An artist like Sabin needs to translate his vision, a very nuanced vision, something that he lovingly shapes and renders with his mind, his eyes, and his hands into this gigantic process that involves moving tons of metal and dozens of processes and people. Can you help our listeners understand just how that happens?
Steve Maule: One thing that is an important definition to make between ourselves and Sabin the artist is we do not consider ourselves the artist. We are artisans that work upon his work. So if you will we are a team of technicians and we follow processes. Sabin will make the artwork his own. Create it as you say by his own hand. What we will do is we simply follow processes to achieve that vision as accurately as possible in a given time to give Sabin back what he requires in a more permanent material.
Theo Mayer: A big part of what a foundry does involves craft and science that began centuries ago. But today as you mentioned there is some technology that's becoming part of the process. Can you give us some insight into that?
Steve Maule: One of the things that we've been able to do with Sabin's project, with the memorial, is to use a process called "Photogrammetry". We've developed that in conjunction with another company that we work very closely with, a photography studio called Steve Russell's Studios. We have essentially built what we call a "Photogrammetry Rig" and if you can imagine what it is, it is a large 15 ft diameter turntable with a rig built upon that houses 160 very high resolution cameras. We take a model, a real person, we put them into a uniform or a nurses outfit, however Sabin wants the pose to be and we shoot all of those cameras simultaneously. What those images do, we have special software which we developed which allows us to stitch all those images together to create a three-dimensional file. Which we can then put into a physical form and we use that as a very accurate armature for Sabin to then model upon.
Theo Mayer: I also want to mention, just for our audience. Sabin started the process of design by using an iPhone camera and shooting pictures of models, and starting his sketching from that. So this is sort of the three-dimensional digital version of that amped up a lot.
Steve Maule: It is. We talk about being an armature because for us, something that is produced by machine can never really replace the artist. What we will create to give Sabin is actually a very accurate model of what he's shown from the actual physical model that he's chosen that we've put inside the camera rig. The reason we do that is obviously that these figures will be greater than life size and for Sabin to do it a traditional way, with a steel armature and an enormous bag of clay, it would be half of a lifetime's work to create all the figures required. So what we're doing is we're using technology to give him the head start.
Theo Mayer: What material is the armature made out of?
Steve Maule: The armature will be machined on a large 5-Axis CNC machine in a polyurethane foam. A high density foam.
Theo Mayer: Then you send that to his studio, and he starts to put clay on it?
Steve Maule: We send that to Sabin's studio, he puts clay on it. He creates the artwork, and then from then we go back into the traditional mold processes of the foundry casting which is to start by making a rubber mold.
Theo Mayer: Walk us through the process from there.
Steve Maule: Once Sabin has finished the artwork and is happy with it, essentially we take that original positive that Sabin's created and we create a soft rubber negative of that original artwork. We then take that negative and we paint wax into that negative. That wax is liquid, it's hot, we paint it into the mold. As the wax cools we're able to remove the wax from the mold, then if you like, is a holo copy of the original artwork that Sabin has created. We then take that holo wax, we cut it into pieces because we can't cast a the whole thing together. It needs to be broken into pieces. We surround those waxes in a refractory material, in this case it will most likely be plaster or ceramic, depending on the process we choose. That whole thing then sits inside a kiln or a large oven. The oven melts the max out, which then leaves a space behinds it, and that space again is connective of the original artwork. Into that space we pour a molten metal, therefore giving us the hard positive copy in bronze of the original artwork, which is the memorial.
Theo Mayer: So there is a lot of engineering involved in actually breaking the sculpture apart and reassembling it, isn't there?
Steve Maule: There's a huge amount of engineering. We will be consulting with structure engineers to make sure that it's strong enough. We'll be consulting, obviously, with the rest of the team building the memorial part in terms of foundation, fixings, cranes, everything else that goes into a major civil project like this.
Theo Mayer: I'm just trying to imagine how much metal is poured into something like that. Can you give us a sense for that?
Steve Maule: Yes. At this stage about 15 metric tons, about 32,000 pounds.
Theo Mayer: That's quite a lot of bronze! That's great. This is a big story and a big sculpture. How often is something this large made?
Steve Maule: Well we are a significantly large foundry. We make artworks all the time. Usually we make artworks that are for private collectors or galleries, not often do we make a memorial of the stature that this piece will be. We often make more contemporary work as well, and I think to have something with such classicism as this piece is a real thrill for us.
Theo Mayer: It is gonna be a stunning piece. Clearly this story is as huge as is the sculpture, and maybe we can have you come back later as the process continues. Would you?
Steve Maule: I would be absolutely delighted, yeah. Thank you Theo.
Theo Mayer: Steve Mall is the Director of Pangolin Editions, a premier foundry located in the UK and working with sculptor Sabin Howard on "The Soldiers Journey" for the national WWI memorial in Washington D.C. Learn more from the links in the podcast notes.