Glancing out the window while commuting down 35th Street, in the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, you might imagine yourself a red blood cell floating through plaque crusted arteries. The decay of weathered brick one-story machine shops, once churning with activity, appear largely abandoned and vacant. Some shops are now schools or churches, some shops maintained their industrial roots and continue machining, building and manufacturing. One shop in particular, Vanguard Sculpture Services, consummates ingenuity found in the neighborhood’s traditions and the creativity of craft and art culture smelting in Milwaukee’s niche scenes.
In the Guild
Since 1996 in the Vanguard space and for many years before that, Vanguard’s proprietor Mike Nolte has cast bronze sculptures ranging in size from house cat to adult human and beyond. His recent winter Gallery Night exhibit opening entitled Founders highlights his artisan craft, forging sculpture artists’ work into permanent fixtures of life expression. Inaugurating the new Vanguard Gallery space extraordinary bronze cast pieces, formed by nearly 20 different artists, pose virtually immortal on pedestals and rappel from Vanguard Gallery‘s walls. Among them a large spider gently claws the wall, and a cubist inspired cat prowls.
A Few Among the Sculptors
Bernard Roberts, Bountifully Shaped
Cindy Rust Saiia, Coded Panes
Don Rambadt, Flying Fairly
Care Ekpo, Of Topics Less Known
William Zweifel, Woven Glass
Laura Priebe, Fossils of the Present
David Aschenbrener, Fire and Ice
Charlotte Darling Diehl, A Mother’s Love
Art as Labor
Nolte offered tours of his bronze casting shop in conjunction with Vanguard Gallery’s recent installation opening. Explaining his modern application of the ancient lost-wax technique that brings bronze sculptures into being, Nolte’s overview revealed the tremendously time intensive process lending to the relatively high value bronze sculptures have given the relatively low value of the metal itself. Essentially, the bronze-smith replicates stone or clay reference sculptures, provided by the artist, using several successive molds made from plastic, plaster and wax before reaching the final stage of pouring liquid bronze into the ceramic cast.
“Freezing” at 1700 degrees Fahrenheit, the bronze form eventually cools to room temperature and can be handled. Larger sculptures are cast in pieces and must be welded together strategically like a 3-D puzzle. Nolte, in this final stage, may spend thousands of hours grinding and filing the sculpture’s welds and rough spots until every surface lays immaculately smooth. Color can be added to the bronze using the Patina process. The finished bronze is fired again to remove any moisture from the metal. Applying an extremely thin wax coating, adds a refined finish to the final product.
Bronze about Town
Vanguard’s work stands tall all over Milwaukee and the Country. Some of Nolte’s more famous works include the Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis and the George Stephen (founder of Weber Grills) statue. His works can also be seen about town, notably casts of Gwendolyn Gillen’s ducks on the Milwaukee River bridge on Wisconsin Avenue, and less notably, the placards on the Walnut Street Bridge noting Halyard Park’s namesakes Wilbur and Ardie Halyard.
Milwaukee goes to DC
If you missed the State of the Union address last night the 30th Street Corridor, maybe one of Milwaukee’s most promising areas for development, made our fair city proud. The train manufacturer Talgo would have solidly anchored the Corridor with a long term commitment to occupy the Century City development (the former A.O. Smith site) until Wisconsin’s current Governor, in one of his first ill-advised acts, nixed State support of a Talgo‘s relocation to Milwaukee.
Despite this set back, President Obama pointed out in the SOTU (minute 11:30 if you search the video) that another of the Corridor’s residents, Masterlock, recently returned to full production capacity. Masterlock makes quality U-Locks for all you bikers out there, and they are made in Milwaukee. The good press is certainly welcome news for the 30th Street Corridor BID Executive Director Gloria Stearns, who has noted that in addition to manufacturing, her interests include attracting talent from the creative arts sector to the Corridor to compliment businesses like Vanguard and efforts such as IN:SITE.
Vanguard Gallery’s current installation Founders runs until February 17th. The closing reception will feature a live bronze pouring demonstration.
Vanguard casting extends services to HAAT project, Taki S. Raton, Milwaukee Courier