Olszewski Art Technical and Creative Process

Last Updated:  October 4, 2009


     Dick Hunt, author and publisher of The Goebel Miniatures of Robert Olszewski did an exceptional rendering of the process primarily used by Olszewski during the the Pre-Goebel and Goebel Miniatures eras.  Hunt called it "Bronze Cire Perdue Polychromes" or also known as the Lost Wax Process.  Below you will find excerpts and in some cases, pages from Hunt's book.  Those which we have captured are shown in italics or scanned and links provided.

     Archaeological evidence suggest that the lost wax process of creating art forms using metals that can be melted (i.e., gold, silver, bronze, copper, etc.) was is use as early as 2000 B.C. in the Middle East.  Finely detailed gold and copper figurines that have survived from that period have become prized museum pieces. 

     We do not know when the first artist attempted to add color to a metal casting.  Was it the early Egyptians, a culture in India, the Romans, or a Chinese dynasty?  We do know that most Roman statuary was painted, and according to historian Chuck Harley, that is where the word "sincere" was derived.  In Latin, "sine" means without and "cire" means wax.  When a Roman statue was offered for sale, the buyer wanted to be sure that no chips or blemishes had been filled in with wax, buffed smooth, and painted over to hide the fault.  Thus, the buyer would ask if the work of art was "sincere" (without wax).

Whoever did develop the decorating process gave us a rich tradition that has flourished throughout the centuries to provide us with some of the finest art in the world.

The Lost Wax Process produces very precise, detailed castings, but until this century the original pattern or mold was consumed for each piece created.  Reproductions were impossible.  This obstacle was overcome with the discovery of re-usable latex models.

The Wax Art Becomes "Lost" Well - Almost!

The creation of a sculpture or other metal design begins with a small block of carving wax, which is sculpted using very fine carving tools. After the carved figurine has been laboriously completed (anywhere from 100 to 400 hours later), the wax sculpture is placed inside a crucible and invested with plaster.

After the plaster solidifies, it is heated, causing the wax to melt and drain out of holes put in for that purpose.  The wax figure, which took all those long hours of tedious carving to shape, is now "lost" forever, which is how the process earned its name.  A hard plaster cavity is all that remains.  This plaster mold is then filled with molten sterling silver and broken open after the metal solidifies.  The resulting casting is called the sterling master.

If we were only going to make one figurine, our basic work would now be completed.  Jewelers use this technique for creating very expensive, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, although they usually make castings in gold rather than silver or bronze.

For limited edition collectibles, however, more than one piece must be produced.  Therefore, a latex mold will be made to produce new waxes.

Multiple thin sheets of a special latex rubber are placed together, and the sterling master is sandwiched between them.  The latex is then pressed together and heated to form a solid piece of rubber.  After curing, the rubber mold is carefully incised with a sharp knife.  The sterling master is fully incised with a sharp knife.  The sterling master is removed and placed in a vault for safekeeping.

The latex mold is now re-closed, clamped shut and injected with hot wax under pressure.  Once the wax has cooled, the mold is carefully opened again to reveal another wax, which is a faithful reproduction of the original wax carving.

One of the challenges sculptors face while carving their figurines is that they must visualize how easily the production waxes can be removed from the molds.  Sometimes, certain areas are so tiny or fine that removal of the waxes in one piece is almost impossible.  When this occurs, the studio must decide whether to accept a high loss rate with the waxes or to recarve the design.

Until Goebel Miniatures created "Chipping Sparrow" in 1980, the studio's procedure was to cut molds from the actual sterling master.  No matter how careful the technicians were, however, damage was certain to be done to the master by the sharp knives.  Not wanting to live with the problem any longer, the studio decided to insert a problem-solving step in the process.

After the firxt wax is removed from the mold, apparent production problems and corrective action needed to eliminiate them are clear to an experienced sculptor.  As the master modeler, Bob Olszewski studies this first production wax and does any recarving necessary to eliminiate potential problems.  Then the modified wax is once again placed in plaster, and the entire process is repeated.  The resulting sterling is call the production sterling master, which will be used for cutting all further production molds.

Usually, several production masters are cast.  (Remember, the original sterling master is safely tucked away in the valut in the remote event that it should be needed again.)  A slight reduction in size occurs in the production wax as compared to the original wax.

Now there are many production molds made, and production of the waxes begins in a reasonable quantity.  Each perfect wax begins in a reasonable quantity.  Each perfect wax is then welded to a cylinder of wax about a half inch in diameter and six inches long, forming what is called a "wax tree."  Each tree will hold from three to ten waxes, depending on their size.  This is done to permit more than one wax in each plaster cast.

Now the previous cycly is repeated with the wax tree:  it is placed in a crucible, filled with plaster, and the wax melted out.  Then the plaster cavities are filled with molten bronze, allowed to cool, and carefully opened to reveal a bronze tree of figurines.  The figurines are then separated and sent over to the studio for finishing and painting.

In this fashion, each lost wax figurine produced is an original created from its own individual wax.

The critical element that separates Goebel Miniatures from the others is [was at the time] their advanced mold technology.

As you can appreciate, this slow and meticulous process can hardly be called mass production.  So much care and tiime has been taken to arrive at this point, yet we still have only an unfinished bronze figurine before us.  Clearly, these sculptures are not inexpensive, mass-produced, stamped metal figurines.  Production is limited by the sheet number of hours necessary to produce each one.

To better understand why using these latex molds is so difficult, take any Olszewski figurine in your hand.  Observe where you can see daylight through the figurines's parts.  Wherever there is space surrounded by metal, a piece of latex from the mold filled the space during the making of the produc tion wax.

When opening the mold to remove the wax after injection, each of these small, tentacle-like pieces of latex must be carefully removed withour breaking either the latex or the wax.  This care must be taken so that the mold can be clamped back together and re-used to produce another wax.

To further illustrate the challenge, as few as 10 of every 100 production molds cut will be good enought to use.  The mold will vary from 10 to 400 cycles, depending upon the complexity of the mold and the texture of the figurine.  Then that mold, too, must be discarded.

The Goebel Miniatures Studio

Pages 7 through 16 of Dick Hunt's book provide an Overview of the Goebel Miniatures facility where thousands of figurines and displays were created during the period 1978 - 1994 under Robert "Bob" Olszewski's creative and artistic oversight.  Nowhere else will one find an excellent description of that time other than in Dick Hunt's book which takes you on a journey into the Goebel Miniatures Studio which was located on Adohr Lane, in Camarillo, California.



Olszewski Studios - Where it all started and the story behind the earlier production.  Camarillo, California

Goebel Miniatures Studio - Camarillo, California

Olszewski Studios



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