Posts Tagged 'lost wax process'

How It's Made: Sacred Bronzes of India

When you enter the Southeastern Asian galleries located on the third floor of the Museum, an instant calm envelops you.  The gallery is full of stone and bronze figures choreographed in slow and quiet poses.  It’s almost like stumbling upon a yoga class, where each figure is in a tranquil pose and reaching for spiritual awareness. 

Image of the Southeastern Asian Galleries at the Dallas Museum of Art

I am most drawn to the bronze sculptures of the collection, and I’d like to share how they were made.  As with most metal sculptures throughout history, the sacred bronzes of India were made with the ancient technique of the lost-wax process.  The lost-wax process served as an integral part of the Hindu religion during the Chola dynasty, which reigned between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, due to the desire for portable images of deities.

These bronze figures were created for worship and were housed in stone temples.  Oftentimes, they were removed from the temples for use in ceremonies, acting as processional gods to the people of India.  Our very own Shiva Nataraja is a perfect example of a processional bronze.   For more information on how these bronze objects were used in ceremonies, read Hannah’s blog post on Thursday.

Shiva Nataraja, Dallas Museum of Art

Shiva Nataraja, India, c. 1100, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, the Hamon Charitable Foundation, and an anonymous donor in honor of David T. Owsley, with additional funding from The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation and the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund

Lost-wax Process

The lost-wax process is a technique that seems to be as old as time.  It’s estimated that the earliest work created in this technique dates back to around 3500 B.C. in modern day Pakistan, and it is a common application for sculptors today.  One of the oldest works we have in the Museum dates back to 2000 B.C. and can be found in Silk Road installation on the third floor. 

The process begins with “prepared wax,” a mixture of hard beeswax and resin.  The sculptor gently heats the wax to create a malleable material for molding.  After an area of the object is finished, it is dipped into a cold basin of water to harden the wax.  This alternation of heating and cooling continues until the entire figure is assembled.   The sculptor will then go back and add details with wooden tools to finalize the figure. 

Once the object is ready for the mold, sprues (which are tubular forms of wax that allows liquid metal to flow from one end to another) are applied to the figure to ensure that the molten metal will reach all parts of the figure.  The sculptor then meticulously applies several layers of clay to build up a mold, leaving a small hole to allow for the burn-out process.  When the clay is bone-dry, the mold is fired to harden the clay and to burn-out the wax.  This method allows the wax to flow out, leaving a hollowed clay mold. 

Next, metalworkers melt a mixture of copper, lead, and tin (and in some cases, gold and silver too) in a crucible and then carefully pour the molten metal into the same hole the wax was released from.  Metal cools relatively fast, so if you have a large object, you have to make sure you have enough melted metal!  Once the metal is cooled, the clay shell is broken and the sculpture is revealed.  Every bronze sculpture is unique, as the clay molds cannot be reused.  To complete the work, the sculptor must cut off the sprues and sand the surface smooth, readying the object for the final application of polishing and wax.

Diagram of molds, courtesy of

I encourage you to stop by the Museum and observe these sacred bronzes of India.  You might find yourself appreciating the tranquil rhythm and balance of these forms, as well as how they were made!

Best regards,

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

My Creative Process

The Dallas Museum of Art is currently exhibiting a staff art show called Insourced. This exhibition includes works of arts by staff members from all over the museum, such as gallery attendants, visitor services representatives, exhibition designers and interns. I am an art enthusiast and really enjoy looking at works of art, whether it’s a masterpiece, a graphic design, or an advertisement. I also enjoy looking at nature, people, and places for inspiration. I find that looking at a broad range of artworks as well as the things around me: 

  1. Inspires and influences my own art.
  2. Gives me a boost of confidence to create art.
  3. Allows me to be free to explore different mediums.

My two works of art, Untitled (2007) and Generations (2001), were inspired by observing things around me. Generations was created using two inexpensive materials: paper and charcoal. One night,  I decided to draw my mother, who was sitting on the couch. I grabbed my drawing board, newspaper print, and a box of charcoal sticks. I sat in front of her for about forty-five minutes. I think the essence of my mother, my grandmother and great-grandmother shines through in this portrait.

Untitled was inspired by a box of chicken from a fast food restuarant. I was drawn to the image of the chicken on the front of the box. I thought about the box growing legs and running around. Strange, you might think, but it was the beginning steps to my creation. First, I sketched and decided on the materials. I knew I wanted to pair wood and metal because I thought they were good match. Once I drew my sketches and had an idea of what I wanted to make, I created the objects.  I made the wooden boxes by gluing and nailing wood panlels together and creating a hollow form. I also used a mechanical disc sander to even out and smooth the sides and edges of the box. 

The bottom portion of the scultpture took more time to make. I used iron rods to make the legs. I first cut the rods into shorter pieces and then reattached them using a torch. Cutting and reattaching the rods gave them a sense of movement. The feet, which are my favorite, are made of bronze. They were created using the lost wax casting process. Once I had all my pieces made, it was time to combine them by using a hammer and  torch. I first assembled the legs and the feet using the torch. I inserted the rods into the feet and melted the sides in order to bond the two metals. Then, I torched and hammered the top of the rods in order to flatten them. Once they were flattened, I was able to nail them to the bottom of the boxes. For me, this work of art is a constant reminder that anything can be an inspiration.

Artists are inspired by people, places and things. So the next time you are walking, sitting, or standing, stop and observed the things around you. It could be the sky, a smile, or a box of chicken that could inspire you to create a work of art.
Karen A. Colbert
Teaching Programs Intern


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