Early History of the International Sculpture Center

International Sculpture Center

First office of the i.s.c. on the KU campus

The Second National Sculpture Casting Conference was held in Lawrence, Ks.  April 12, 13, 14 1962.  Note the name change, the first conference was called the National Sculpture Bronze Casting Conference.  This second one ditched the word “bronze” but was still all about casting.

The titles of the presentations are once again a how to for foundry work, Wax Patterns, Sprue Systems, Investments, Investment Burnout, Metallurgy of Cast Bronze, Joining and   Chasing, Pagination and on and on.

Technique was the topic at these early conferences and the information was interesting and wide ranging but technique was first and foremost in all the talks.  But then Bernard “Poco” Frazier from the University of Kansas moderated a discussion on “The Influences of Casting Materials and Technique on the Design of Sculpture”.  This discussion became a start in breaking away from technique and talking about ideas, beliefs, inspirations.

Poco Frazier

But the discussion quickly reverted  to the standard fare of technique and how to. As if to talk about ideas was foreign.  But then Frazier turns it back to the talking about beliefs and all of sudden the quotes are flowing; “The validity of whether or not techniques should be the determining factor of sculpture.”  “Is the medium important or is what the artist has to say important?”  “My theory is that materials which decay are beautiful.”  “The crux that life is being repressed through a return to its original primary form of its breakdown into dynamics, the existing true breakdown.”  “ I wonder if someone isn’t going to get up here and tell  conclusively that the weakness or strength might very well be in the man’s mind and not in the message or the material.”

Heady stuff indeed.  But a stark contrast to the technical information that came before and after.   The next topic on the agenda was “Gelatin Molds” then “Petro Bond Sand Casting” “Melting and Fluxing and Pouring Bronze and Aluminum”.  And many other interesting talks but nothing that sparked the kind of exchanges that Frazier brought out in his panel.

The great Abstract Expressionist sculptor Seymour Lipton was the keynote speaker at the banquet of this second biannual gathering.  His speech was the talk of a very thoughtful artist.  “When you make something, it happens unconsciously.  If it doesn’t happen largely unconsciously it’s no good.  The work must come out of your total being.  If you don’t understand that, then you can never understand what creativity is.  It must come intuitively, naturally, from your full being.    When you make something you stand back and look at it.  In that moment of inspection you are the audience of the thing which you made.  In that way you come to recognize yourself.”

Once again a departure from the onslaught of technique.

The conference was concluded with a  round table discussion led by Bernard Frazier.  It was mostly a wrap up of casting technique questions, but in the middle of it Joseph Bolinsky from the Buffalo State Teachers College wanted to know how much space was needed for a foundry at his school. Frazier responded by telling Eldon Tefft and two others “ to huddle some place and give Mr. Bolinsky an answer so he can tell Mr. Rockefeller, the governor of New York, what has to have in order to catch up with bronze casting in the Midwest.”   At the end of the discussion they came up with square foot figures.  This seemed like the pivotal moment in Eldon Tefft’s career in foundry design.  From this moment Eldon went on to write the books that he gave me when I wanted to build an artist foundry.  The books that started my long years of working with a master.

Seymour Lipton

The Third Conference

The third National Sculpture Casting Conference [March 26, 27,28 1964 Lawrence] comes across as the least lively.  The discussions are straight forward and once again casting technique is the sole topic.

It starts with “Ceramic Shell Molding For Sculpture Casting”.  No longer some experimental investment material ceramic shell has come into its own and found its place in the world of casting.

This was followed by a discussion of “Health Hazards in the Foundry” which made me wonder about my own exposures over the years.

Eldon Tefft then gave an overview of foundry practices in Mexico and Central America.  This particularly interested me as I had heard stories from Eldon over the years about his adventures in Mexico and the various countries he travelled in Central America.

There were two talks on metallurgy and casting practices.  Eldon then gave a talk on foundry design that included drawings that later showed up in his publications.

The conference concluded with a talk on experimental casting.  Most of this about Foam

I was expecting to read some heartfelt musings on sculpture like what was seen in the second conference, but nothing.  No mention of Bernard Frazier, which begs the question of whether his contribution was to spark such inspirations. [He shows up at the fourth conference].

The Fourth Conference

The Fourth National Sculpture Casting Conference was held in Lawrence Ks. in the spring of 1966.  The conference was very much akin to the previous three conferences in focusing on technique in metal casting.

The table of contents reveals that emphasis- “The Influence of Experiment, Accident, and Design on Sculpture Casting”, “The Principles of Gating”, “Sculpture Form as Related to Casting Techniques”, “Chemically Bonded Sand Molding”, “Problems of Handling Wax Patterns for Large Investment Molds”,  “Ceramic Shell for Sculpture Casting”, “Sculpture Casting in Japan and Philippines”, “ Mexican Sculpture Founding”, “Top Gate Pouring For Lost Wax Investment Casting”, “Use of Fabric and Other Flammable Material in Lost Wax Casting”, “Sculpture Patterns for Professional Founding Techniques”, “The Foam Vaporization Process”, “Japanese Mold Making and Procedures for Repair”.

Each of these talks were full of interesting information and the topics on international casting techniques set the stage for the development of the International part of the I.S.C.  But once again technique in casting was the sole topic.

But then the last talk of the conference was a panel discussion led by Bernard Frazier from KU and it was called “Casting In the Omnitechnology of Sculpture”.

Frazier introduced the discussion by saying, “I would like for us to try a stream of consciousness panel discussion.”  He went on to describe a boyhood memory on the plains of Kansas of a train wreck and watching men with acetylene torches melting metal and the flow of the molten metal into sinuous forms and how “Flowing molten metal became a permanent part of my mind.”   He then asked the participants to tell their sculptural origin stories.  “ I want you to go just as far as you can go profitably, and then someone else take it up.  There is one rule, very rigid, it is this, nothing about technique. Technique is very necessary, of course, but in this panel, we are talking only about the aesthetic soul.”

With this introduction, the conferences forever changed.  It was as if the very soul of the ‘60’s finds its place in the discussion of sculpture.  This discussion is where the direction of the I.S.C. is drawn.  It took some prodding but soon the participants were off and running.  Ideas for the future of sculpture.

Some examples: Geofry Clarke from England- “I think we will eventually end up with practical examples of sculpture in light…. There will be a different kind of architect.  A different kind of sculptor and between the two of them you won’t know who is who.  He wants to make the sculpture big enough for people to walk through, live with, on a vast scale, so there is going to be a certain conflict there.”

Frazier responds- “In conversation with Buckminster Fuller I discussed this very thing.  This is the conclusion that we also came to- that sculpture and architecture will continue to become more and more one thing.”

International Sculpture Center

Eldon Tefft

Jules Struppeck from Louisiana- “The age of individualism has produced a mentality and a conception of the importance of each individual and the right of each individual to find his own way.    The concept of the monument is somewhat from that.  It is imposed on the individual.  In other words, instead of permanent values, which are continued, I think we are after a rather permanent revolution of values, which is in constant state of flux.”

Frazier- “I do think though that it is likely that there will always be a sacred spot, a special place, which has a special form.  I would say that whatever monuments there are will concern thoughts.  They will be monuments to values, monuments to ideas, not to persons nor to events.”

Geofry Clarke- “It will be great when the scientist can pin things onto the artist’s head, you know and plug him into the computer and there it appears.  That is the ultimate, and then somehow or other they program this computer and there it appears.”

Frazier asks Eldon Tefft at this point if he wants to comment.

Tefft- “I have one comment; this panel is now approaching the type of communication that I had hoped the conference would move toward.  I am glad it is moving in this direction now and I hesitate to disturb the trend.”

Audience member- “I was wondering if you are at all familiar with the concept of laser projection, where you project interference patterns with a laser light and it reconstructs a three-dimensional image?”

Victor Temmerman from Belgium- “I believe now in sculpture even as in all art, I think we are in a kind of impasse.  Something that happens in all times. The sculptors all through the centuries, I think lived in the same times as we now live, just waiting on something that happens.  We have to go ahead and do something.  One thing that I am thinking of is integration.  I mean integration of all arts into one.”

Frazier- “I am going to suggest that whatever our society amounts to in the future, however overpopulated, and overcrowded and over bearing, there will perhaps be more and more need for a private place, a special place, an intellectually sacred space where the individual can somehow or other look into his own heart to see what he actually is.  I strongly believe that the descendent of what we now call the sculptor, will be the man who has the skill to design these special places where the soul can go,”

As this lively and thoughtful discussion was coming to an end, Jules Struppeck from Louisiana states, “The conference has to a large extent served its rather limited purpose in being a casting conference. The people that I have talked with the last two days all seem to share with me a feeling that perhaps there is a lot more here than casting and technique of casting.  I think there is a feeling running through most minds here that perhaps some kind of organization might develop.  Perhaps we are aiming in this conference without being too conscious of it towards some kind of national association of sculptors.”

A lengthy discussion followed on the pros and cons of organizations. The consensus being clearly on the pros side of the coin.  Frazier finishes up by asking Tefft, “ Eldon, do you want to say whether you are thinking of another conference?”  Tefft replies, “Each year at this time I am careful not to think about the next conference. The decision must come later.” And with that Frazier declares, “We are adjourned.”

With this final discussion, the International Sculpture Center truly began.  Ideas and how sculpture relates to those ideas.

The fifth Conference in 1968,
One word, “Plastics”.

By Karl Ramberg

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