Midsummer sculpture in progress

Okay, we’re only a few months away from the official unveiling of the sculptural fountain based on ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ that I designed quite some time ago and have been talking about on this blog ever since. The concept started as a drawing that my co-sculptor, David Spence and I worked out over several weeks time. Here is both a front view:


And the back:


These drawings were followed by a small 3D sketch, called a maquette in sculptural terms and executed in sculpy:


These were submitted for approval to both the institution that commissioned the piece, The Barter Theater Foundation and the Architectural Review Board of the town of Abingdon VA where it will be built.

About two years ago we began the long process that leads to a finished bronze. David decided rather than cut granite being used for the various boulders around the structure that we would use real boulders and make casts of those, to later be poured in bronze.


A great idea that later became both a blessing and a curse. Here’s assistant Bill Thompson with the chosen boulders. He and David then covered these stones with rubber molds from which, at a later date, wax forms were poured. Once in the wax, the shapes were adjusted to suite our needs, then cast into bronze replicas of those same rocks.


Back in the studio David and I started on the two foxes, first molding their forms in clay. He would work on one end, while I worked on the other. When either of us ran into a dead end of “this doesn’t look quite right” we would shift around and a fresh eye and hand would take over. Oh, the conversations that we had…


Slowly the figures would emerge from the plasticine clay. A fox one day…

A hare the next. For reference, the studio space was blanketed in downloaded printouts, most of them found during long sessions on Google image searches of the animals we needed. A hare, for instance, is quite different in form than the more common bunny rabbit.


Then there was that grinning trickster, Puck.



From this point the clay figure was cut into several sections. These sections were painted with many, many layers of rubber mold solution, from which a wax replica was poured. Any adjustments that are needed are executed in that malleable wax. The wax replica was dipped multiple times into ceramic material to form a hard mold. The wax was burned out and later bronze poured into the mold. What is left is various sections of your intended piece that will have to be welded back together. After those weld marks were ground down and smoothed out the reassembled figure was painted with layers of patina (liquid acids that produce various colors on the surface of the bronze). Here then is our Puck, finally in place at the site of the fountain:


As well as all of his animal companions and the boulders that they sit on.


That column in the middle of the fountain space is where, eventually, the tree and figure of Titania will be placed. That central part of the fountain will rise to 16 feet in height.


While the tree section is being cast into bronze we have been given a space at the Barter Theater’s scene shop, courtesy of Rick Rose and Mark DeVol, to construct the 9 ft. figure of the Fairy Queen has made many demands of us so far. As you can imagine, a figure that large demands quite a bit of infrastructure underneath to support the hundreds of pounds of clay used to articulate her features.


An elaborate structure of steel pipe, copper tubing and wire mesh is used to articulate her skeleton. Sometimes The Queen got unruly and a few further adjustments needed to be made.


But after offering a certain amount of ceremonial blood letting (cuts and slices from the very sharp ends of all that wire) she began to take a bit of shape.


And assume her proper features.



We were, perhaps, a little more than a week away from completion when the faeries began to laugh at us mere mortals. I was working below the face you see above and heard a series of small cracks. I looked up and Queen Titania slowly leaned forward, bending over as if to kiss me perhaps? But that’s 300 or so pounds of clay we’re talking about. A central steel pipe had snapped and down she came, to rest gently on a scaffolding that I quickly swung under her form.

Now, two days later, the clay has been stripped off and a new, and much, much sturdier structure of steel rebar has been welded into place.

This afternoon I’ll start over again.

In the meantime, one of her fairy attendants has been completed and is wending her way into her final bronze form, soon to be joined by another two such companions. The purple wings that you see here are just place holders.


The completed sculpture is slated to unveiled this June, I hope that some of you at least can make it down for the festivities. And I’ll, of course, keep you up to date by posts on this blog.



21 Responses to “Midsummer sculpture in progress”

  1. Manuela says:

    This looks gorgeous! The sheer size of it is amazing.

    The world needs more fountains like that.

  2. hollybird says:

    Wow! From concept to casting, this is a really amazing process. What a lucky town! I wish our local public art installations were half as cool…

  3. JKR says:

    Charles, this looks great!

    Other than google images, in general what do you use as reference for your figures, clothing, etc.?

    I’ve always wanted to know, as your art is so convincingly executed, I’d swear you were using photo reference or models . . .

    I’m dying to know.

  4. Malcolm says:

    looks stunning!! You should be really proud. a good excuse to come visit!! drop me a line…..:)

  5. Charles Vess says:


    Never been much for posed models and such. The few times I did go that route it seemed to take all the life out of my drawing as I seemed to be worrying more about how uncomfortable the model was than the drawing itself.

    When I was sharing an apartment with Michael Kaluta in NYC he taught me to pay attention to everything around you. NOT just to look quickly and glaze over a particular person/event/landscape but to really study those aspects. Sitting on the subway provides lots of free schooling.

    All those years and years of drawing thousands of panels filled with multiple figures in every comic book that I’ve done gave me some sense of how to generate a pleasing gesture both in a figure and clothing.

    Its all well and good to be able to draw a well proportioned person or a horse or whatever but you also need to be able to imaginatively place yourself into the context of whatever scene that you’re drawing/painting/sculpting. You can then adapt the details of your image to the emotional needs of that particular illustration.

    I do have lots of xeroxes of Donatello’s sculptures posted round about the work space. He was a master at achieving form and movement in his marble sculptures. I hope some of his skill will eventually rub off onto me…


  6. That is just awesome.

  7. JKR says:

    Thanks for your response Charles!

    It sounds like years of “practice” is the best reference.

    When I was in art school we had to trace slides and it drove me mad. Killed any element of spontaneity. So stiff.

    I just find it so hard to do clothing without reference.

    Anyhow, what’s great about this sculpture is that the characters are stylistically “Charles Vess” characters. I’d know this Midsummer sculpture was yours even if no one told me.

  8. orchard says:

    Really magical, I’m really in awe of the sculptural work you’ve been doing over the last while. I wish the world had more of this.

  9. Matt Dauer says:

    looks great…i think me and the lady will try to make back to abingdon for the unveiling…are there plans for a days worth of festivities?

  10. Charles Vess says:


    The grand unveiling will be sometime in June. That entire month will have several Barter Theater 75th anniversary events in play. I’m, of course, angling for June 21 as midsummer would seem to be the perfect date to present this particular fountain to the world. I’ll keep you posted though.


  11. Curt Phillips says:

    Hi Charles,

    June 21 would be a *perfect* day for the unveiling since – as I e-mailed you earlier today – I’ll be holding a small SF conference here in Abingdon that weekend and we’ll have several additional attendees (including our guests like Ted White) here to attend. I would be delighted to arrange the conference schedual to incorporate the unveiling and will contact you later about coordinating the time for that. I took the liberty of forwarding the link for your blog to LOCUS, ANSIBLE, and several other fannish news websites and publications and pointing out the fountain project. I imagine that some of them will be very interested in covering the unveiling in some way.

    I happened to see Puck a few weeks ago in front of the Barter Theater office and recognized your hand, but had no idea then that I was only seeing the beginning of a much grander work. I think this is one of the finest things to ever happen in Abingdon and I look forward to being there for the unveiling.


    Curt Phillips

  12. BB3NBLB says:

    My wife and I are glad to see the project coming along so quickly. The last time we visited your studio you showed us the model you had done; now seeing your vision come to life is more amazing than ever. We stopped the other night and took some photographs and just studied each of the creatures. Simply Amazing! We look forward to the unveiling of the finished piece. The twenty-first of June would be awesome (seeing as how that is my birthday!) I look forward to seeing the other pieces being added over the next few months.

    Bobby and Bobbi Boyd

  13. Vrresto says:

    Wow. Very jealous that Chicago is not the intended home for the fountain.

    A question for Mr. Vess – I recently purchased a piece of your artwork from the Rose miniseries. I was wondering if it would be possible to have you create an authentication or dedication for it, which I would attach to the back of the frame? I would be of course willing to pay you for your time and creativity. You can contact me at Vrresto@comcast.net to discuss further, if this is a possibility.

    Thanks so much. Major kudos on the fountain.


  14. Carl V. says:

    I am undone. Wow! The immensity of this is incredible and the work in progress is so gorgeous. I can hardly wait to see the finished project. As always your talent amazes me and I think it is so great that you are able to translate your unique drawings into 3 dimensional form with such faithfulness. Thank you so much for sharing the pictures, it is inspiring and intriguing.

  15. Fabulous! work Im very impressed indeed! Having worked ion this scale In LA LA Land I know the difficulkties of sculpting using this process. Ive done allot of green foam sculpting but it just doesnt have that edge like getting your hands dirty . By the by Be From faerie Magazine told me you liked my Diaries and i just wanted to say that I dig your work muchly! as well. Wonderful Pen and ink. Im a big fan of Virgil Finlay and the OZ books. Thanks for keeping a fantasy style so vibrant and alive!
    Carpe Noctum

  16. edward s. says:

    charles vess; after 24 years of archivng the life’s work of an artist, and also having done brionze, I can appreciate the work here, simply stunning figures, in balance and form. Since there is no direct email address, I will leave the contact here. I am doing a series of interviews to DVD with artists and architects from around the world. Many of your peers, and would like to move the invitation to you, for the Legacy Series. Even if you would not consider, please let me now. Nothing worse than habitually bothering someone. Please use email address for a response. thanks, Charles Vess.

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