Lost Wax and Bronze Casting


Photo courtesy of Asher Schleich

The combination of art and history is arguably one of Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance’s (KM Perform) strongest assets. This spring, Mrs. Beal and Mr. Hickman (KM Perform’s Artist-in-Residence and lifelong artist and craftsman) teamed up to create a seminar around the lost art of bronze casting. 

The Bronze Sculpture: The Art of Lost Wax Investment Casting seminar ran for six weeks over the months of April and May. Throughout the process, students were provided with numerous opportunities to earn a variety of credit. Art Focus students earned Foundations in their focus area, and students in Writing, Theater or Music Focuses could also earn credit in Applied Interdisciplinary Arts (AIA), Design, History courses, and possibly even Science or Math. And all students earned English credit for their Artist Statements. The process of bronze casting involves a variety of skills and research, making it an opportunity to earn lots of credit. 

The bronze casting process is a long and complicated one. Students were initially given a quarter pound of wax, from which they were tasked with creating their personalized sculptures. Students used several techniques to create their pieces, from heating metal tools to seal seams to painting on melted wax to make either textured or smooth surfaces. After the wax sculptures were complete, they were attached to “gates” or wax pipes that would create a tunnel for the bronze to fill the cavity formed by the waxes (once the molds are burned out). Then, the students made plaster molds around their sculptures, before placing the molds upside down in a kiln to melt all of the wax out (burn out). Left with an empty mold of their sculpture, the students were then ready to pour the bronze. Once the bronze had cooled, the students were able to remove it from the molds and begin refining their bronze sculptures. 

Students spent Block 3 (and sometimes Advisories and Studio Blocks) working to refine their sculptures. Through messy work with power tools, the students slowly worked the bronze into its final form. The final bronze sculptures were all made to each student’s individual standards, some students polishing them until they shone, and others using a process called patina (a colorful film laid over the bronze) to create the final looks. After several weeks of hard work, the sculptures were finally ready to be put on display.

Pictures of the students’ final pieces are displayed in the KM Perform hallway, which showcases the process of bronze casting, complete with an artist statement from Artist-in-Residence Mr. Hickman. Several students also showed their pieces at the end of the year Open House, and all of the bronzes were on display during the KM Perform End of Year Celebration. Overall, the process was new and exciting for the students of KM Perform, allowing them to push their artistic boundaries beyond that of a typical high school art class.