By: John Joyce, Global Director of the Lenny Peters Foundation
It is a painstaking practice dating back thousands of years. Yet while historians bicker about whether the art of lost wax casting began in Ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom (2700 – 2200 B.C.) or the Early Dynastic period in Mesopotamia (2900 – 2350 B.C.), two facts remain indisputable. First, the method is still in practice today. Secondly, the lost wax process remains the best option for artists working to bring to life massive bronze sculptures that might otherwise crumble under their own weight.
One such bronze sculpture, coated in off-white enamel and installed at the headquarters of Bethany Medical in High Point at the start of the year, illuminates in a revolving neon pallet of complementary colors. Passersby traveling South on North Main Street need only look to their right as they drive by the immaculate white building at 645 N. Main – nicknamed, “The White House,” by some who work there – to see the world sitting in the palm of the hand of God, or the Creator.
“I wanted this space to hold something truly remarkable, indicative of who we are and what is the purpose of all the challenging work that goes on inside this building,” said Dr. Lenny Peters. “The Lenny Peters Foundation is meant to be a helping hand here at home and around the world.”
The hollowed-out globe is shaped by connecting the large masses that form the Earth’s oceans and leaving vacant the spaces where its seven continents would sit, allowing for the parade of colored light to pass through and emit a glow seemingly from the inside out. The colors in fact emanate
from below and from the painted glass windowpanes which surround the sculpture on two sides. The pedestal, sculpture, and colored windows comprise the entire north corner of the two-story building, making it impossible to miss.
The sculpture is of the logo conceived by Dr. Peters 16 years ago to represent his eponymous foundation. The idea was brought to life through a collaborative effort between Freeman Kennett Architecture, the High Point firm that designed the building upon which the sculpture sits, and the nearby Metropolitan Gallery, the local art studio which oversaw its manufacture.
“You have to have an artist involved,” said Cindy Bennett, highlighting both the antiquity and meticulous nature of the process. “In Egypt, any time they excavate they dig up bronzes.”
Cindy and her late husband Glenn founded the Metropolitan Gallery in 1993. Since then, the gallery has developed relationships with artists and makers both nationally and internationally.
After being connected through a mutual neighbor with architect Brian Cheek of the Freeman Kennett firm, whom she said already had developed the design, Bennett set about bringing the idea to life. She said the gallery has some longstanding connections with artists and manufacturers in Thailand who are renowned for their skill in the art of sculpture via the lost wax process.
“Thailand is another ancient country. They are the land of Buddha and have been making bronzes for centuries,” Bennett said.
Gallery director Maxwell Taro explained in detail the process the sculpture underwent.
“Once the concept was sculpted out of clay, and once all the minor details were fine-tuned, rubber molds were created. Once the rubber molds were made, they could begin casting with the hot molten bronze,” Taro said.
The entire process involves an average of 23 to 28 steps, depending on the artist and the piece. It is a rigorous undertaking that can go on for months. For this project, with the added disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the timetable was prolonged. The entire project, from Dr. Peters’ first discussion with Freeman Kennett to the installation, took a little more than a year.
For Cheek, the exercise proved a unique experience that took him beyond the normal scope of his duties and expertise as an architect.
“The hardest part was figuring out how we were going to make it,” Cheek said.
There were several factors to consider outside of the size and dimension of the design, such as how the palm should appear. Early renderings were a bit animated. Cheek said one of the first images he downloaded just to gauge the overall appearance of the palm looked like a drawing of the white-gloved hand of Mickey Mouse.
Using tools such as Google Sketch and Adobe Photoshop, he cobbled together a design and then moved the project over to AutoCAD, the software more typically utilized in architectural design. Monthly meetings with Dr.
Peters during the design/build of the Bethany Headquarters allowed all parties to monitor the progress of the logo’s design.
Once the model began to take shape and renderings showed the finished product in place, illuminated with the backdrop of the windowpane lights display, Cheek began to breathe a little easier.
“That is when Dr. Peters started getting really excited,” he said.
Having seen the entire saga unfold from the first pitch through to the final product, Cheek was elated to see the end result.
“It looks exactly like the renderings,” he said. Cheek credits Metropolitan Gallery and their collaborative artists with bringing the concept to fruition.
“They knew they were going to be able to make it look like that,” he added. “There was never a doubt in my mind.”