Placing the Barter tree

 Work on the ‘Midsummer’ fountain for the Barter Theatre is still on-going, but we (co-sculptor David Spence and myself) were elated to finally put into place the completed tree base on which the 9ft figure of Titania will stand someday very soon.

Work began on this particular piece in July of 2007 in the basement of our project agent and great good friend, Gini Elliot. The tree base is 5ft high and between 4 and 8ft in circumference. Its armature was constructed from thick fencing wire supported by wooden struts, which was then wrapped with tightly rolled newspaper and that in turn was covered in packing tape.


After several weeks of work all that was completely covered in about 4 to 500 pounds of plasticine clay. I had a great time developing flowing roots structures and convuluted bark patterns over the entire surface. You can see here the declevity that I left which will eventually form a small pool of water that will be just above the surface of the water filling the  fountain’s pool.


The actual sculpting of any piece is usually really fun, afterwards though comes the messy ,physically exhausting,  effort involved in creating a mold of that work. Our team of worker bees (Chris and Karen) came in and, following the same process as detailed in the previous post on the Titania figure,  covered my clay ‘original’ in multiple layers of rubber and finally with an outer shell of hard plastic. Eventually, almost 50 pieces of molding were cut from that shell. Each of those individual pieces are layered with heated wax which is then allowed to cool and harden. That wax replica of the original sculpture is then removed from the mold and itself dipped many times into liquid ceramic which forms a hard outer shell. After that shell is dried it is subjected to intense heat and the liquified wax poured out, leaving a thin, perhaps quarter inch of hollow space throughout the ceramic shell. Later molten bronze will be poured into each of these shells and they will all become parts of an intricate jig saw puzzle of metal pieces that will be welded back together to replicate that original clay form.

But first those dried ceramic shells are brought to our foundry in the woods.


The bronze is prepped for pouring there in a special gas oven that reaches a very high heat of upwards of 2000 degrees. That small round object between us is the oven. Its sometimes hard to believe all the work that little oven does…


Here, Justin (one of our worker bees) and myself carry a crucible full of molten bronze into the foundry in preparation for the pour.





Once the bronze is allowed to cool, the ceramic is hammered off to leave the rough metal that will eventually be pieced together into that original form.


All those unsightly welds then need to be ground down and any surface patterns that have been inadvertantly ‘disapeared’ in the process put back onto the form.


Here’s David standing by the in-progress tree. You can see various as yet unassembled pieces lying on the floor and all the extremely ugly welding seams. Weeks, months later all those pieces are in place.


Once the bronze form is complete then it is re-heated and various chemicals are painted on. In the image above our tree has already had its first coat of patina as well as over 340 bronze ivy leaves individually welded to the copper structure that sits on top of the tree from which the water for the fountain will spill. David, my partner in this enterprise is a past master of this process and he always delights me with the work he does during this sometimes tedious part of the process.

Here are several cups filled with the magic elixirs.



The applied heat from a propane torch and those chemicals combine to produce an array of beautiful colors that bring the dull bronze to amazing life.  It is all a lengthy and extremely time consuming process to say the least.


And I forgot to mention. At the last moment, we added a small fairy riding a mouse, along with several birds that now adorn the side of the tree around and slightly above that small pool of water.



But wait. There is going to be a pump for the fountain and its going to be inside the tree itself. So a door is cut out. Here’s Anthony hunkered inside the tree completing some last minute welds.


A simple set up, with a handle and a single turning leave as a latch.


Then, all 5-600 pounds of our tree needed to be lifted into place. The town of Abingdon graciously lent a very helpfull hand. Thanks John!


Soon the excitement was over and there was the tree in place, with Puck and all his animal friends patiently waiting for their Fairy Queen to come stand amongst them. Quite a few residents of our small town were stopped in their tracks as they watched the huge piece of bronze lift through the sky and down into its new home.


It snowed the very next day.


And very soon her gracious self, Titania will be sitting in her place of honor.



4 Responses to “Placing the Barter tree”

  1. Matt Dauer says:

    Looking amazing!
    How thrilled are you that you get to have so much hands on during the entire process?
    And it looks like Hades gave you a thumbs up the next day…lets hear it for good omens!

  2. Kristina says:

    Oh man- this is looking so neat already Charles! I’ve really been enjoying the stories from this process.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Fantastic, Charles!! I guess this is one piece of original art I won’t be able to own – but it looks magnificent!! I will have to make another pilgrimage :)

  4. beeswing says:

    W.O.W. Seeing the entire process gives me great respect for the work. It’s really a neat way to get to know Her. She is most exquisite! I really look forward to meeting Her in person. Cathy in Asheville

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