Copper in the Arts

December 2016

Invigorating Life Size Bronzes with Classic Realism

By Nancy Ballou

Graduating from Nazareth College of Rochester with a BS cum laude and much encouragement from her professors, Carolyn Palmer studied art in the U.S. and Europe. She went on to paint portraits for 20 years, loving the observation of faces and each person’s unique features.

Artist Carolyn Palmer with her workArtist Carolyn Palmer with her work. 

Photograph courtesy of Carolyn Palmer.

“I was called to do an oil portrait for the owner of The Jefferson Center in Syracuse, NY,” she recalls. “While on the phone, he asked if I knew any sculptors who could create a Thomas Jefferson statue for the lobby of his building. I felt so inspired because, as a child, I was passionate about sculpting faces and figures in the sand. I asked if I could create a small model for him. He liked it and commissioned me to do the entire bronze.”

She soon began receiving other commissions, and now specializes in the traditional lost wax process for her bronze sculptures.

“First, I make a clay model, then a silicone mold,” she explains. “I take the mold to the top East Coast foundry, Pollich Tallix. They cast a hollow wax duplicate that I work on in my studio until it looks exactly like the original. When happy with the results, I return to the foundry. They engineer pathways attached to the wax model. Later, when wax melts out, molten bronze can flow evenly throughout the cavity. This hollow wax with its pathways gets dipped into huge vats of ceramic slurry which hardens to a glass-like material that creates a shell on the interior and exterior of the hollow model. The shell is then put into heated ovens and the wax melts out leaving a cavity for the molten bronze to pour in. When the bronze cools, the shells are hammered off and a bronze duplicate is born.”

To create her signature patina, she torches the metal, then oxidizes it by brushing on chemicals.

“Cold patinas can oxidize metals, too,” she says of the process. “I have a large palette of cold transparent patinas, made for metal, to accentuate various areas. When all is finished, a spray sealant is used to protect against ultraviolet rays, moisture and salt. A final coat of wax lends extra protection. I don’t prefer shiny faces since cameras are already harsh on metal reflections so I like to leave the faces somewhat matte.”

Artist Carolyn PalmerArtist Carolyn Palmer working on a sculpture of Pope Francis. 

Photograph courtesy of Carolyn Palmer. 

Palmer unanimously won a national competition to sculpt a life size bronze for Lucille Ball Park in Lucy’s hometown of Celoron, NY. Unveiled on Lucy’s birthday, August 6, in 2016, the 700-pound finished product depicts the smiling comedienne people remember.

“For realism, I spend extra time scrutinizing all nuances of my subjects’ facial expressions to bring life to the inanimate,” she says. “I read about them and get to know their personalities by watching videos and studying photos. Lighting from all these reference photos exposes the various angles of the face until I can eventually figure out the three-dimensional image. I simulate the same studio lighting from those photos and start pushing clay around until I find their essence in the model. When I finally ‘see them,’ it’s an exhilarating moment!”

Palmer’s venues include prominent museums, public places, presidential libraries and private collections. Her first edition of Orville and Wilbur Wright was commissioned by a Sandford/Orlando (FL) airport and is proudly displayed at the terminal entrance. A Los Angeles aviation motion picture production company purchased the second edition.

Recognized worldwide, Palmer’s work has been covered by magazines, newspapers and major television stations. Her pieces have been rented by television shows and are on loan for temporary displays at New York State Museum and New York Historical Society, among others.

Palmer’s larger than life size Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt grace the lobby entrance to the Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY.

Recently, Pope Francis performed a special benediction over the sculpture of himself in the foyer of NY’s papal residence on his 2015 visit to the U.S. This first bronze edition is now at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and will be installed permanently at the entrance in Spring of 2017.

Palmer adds, “I am also starting a miniature business of all my work.”


Palmer Sculpture Studio, (845) 245-8299

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