Come along as artist David Turner of Turner Sculpture takes CSM on an exclusive tour of his elaborate facility in Onley, Va. and unveils his latest masterpiece — the Ocean City dolphins sculpture
A closer look into the men behind Turner Sculpture of Onley, Va. reveals some pretty interesting things. One is that its master-sculptor/ founder, William Turner, is actually a doctor — dentist to be precise — who had a thriving practice for 25 years that paralleled his success as an artist. Another is that despite his biology degree from the venerable William & Mary, chip-off-the-old-block/son David Turner discovered that he, too, was destined to be a master sculptor, specializing in wildlife since the tender age of six. Still another is that not only does Turner Sculpture have the largest personal foundry in the U.S., the esoteric and arcane nature of what they do there practically borders on modern-day alchemy.
These things, along with their proud pedigree as Eastern Shore natives, make them the perfect choice — virtually the only choice — to create the recently commissioned dolphins sculpture that is scheduled to splash down at the southwest corner of Route 90 and Coastal Highway this year. It is the follow-up to their 2007 landmark eagle sculpture, Spillin’ the Wind, which is currently perched at the northern entrance of 144th St. in Ocean City.
The dolphins sculpture, meanwhile, will feature three of the cerebral cetaceans, measuring approximately five, seven and eight feet, respectively, with a bronze wave/splash support base. The overall height of the sculpture will be about nine feet and will be anchored to a pedestal another seven-to-eight feet tall.
Recently, CSM visited David Turner at his impressive studio-foundry-gallery in Onley, only to see firsthand that the creation of these beautiful works is an extremely complicated and multifarious process that boils down to one part art, one part science and one part magic.
Though some artists in David’s position may prefer to launch from a sketch or other two-dimensional platform, David prefers to go right from his imagination straight to 3-D in the form of a maquette, which is a scaled-down model made out of clay or wax and pliable metal rods. When he goes to the full-scale model, he usually constructs what’s called an armature, which is basically a skeleton made from metal, wood or foam that acts as a support structure for a clay, wax or plaster sculpture. Then comes the really fun part: the clay-modeling process, which David freely admits is one of his first, best reasons for getting up in the morning.
“My passion comes in working with and sculpting the clay, before any molds, casting or metals are involved,” David said. “It’s the only area of this business about which I am selfish and proprietary. It is hands-down my favorite part.”
Once the full-scale clay sculpture is complete — which can take anywhere from two weeks to eight months — it is literally cut into pieces so that they can make molds out of rubber and plaster. When the molds are ready, they are separated; the rubber mold is cut apart, and the clay is peeled from it. From there, the rubber mold goes to the wax room, where wax heated to 325° is poured into it. As the wax cools from the outside in, hardening along the way, the residual liquid wax is poured out, leaving behind a hollow wax casting.
This is the initial stage where any imperfections may be removed or smoothed out. Once that’s attended to, wax rods are attached to the wax casting that will act as future channels into which liquefied metal (in this case bronze) will be poured. The wax casting is then dipped twice a day every day into a tank of liquid silica, which will result in a thick ceramic shell after about a week.
This is where the furnace first enters the picture. When you insert the ceramic-coated casting into the furnace, the wax is evacuated and the ceramic hardens, just like in sixth-grade art class. After the ceramic mold is preheated (to about 1,400°), 2,000° molten bronze is poured into it, filling the void where the wax had been. Once the metal cools, the ceramic mold is hammered off, leaving only the bronze casting behind.
The metalworkers take over from here. All the cast-metal pieces undergo what’s called “metal chasing,” in which all the imperfections are removed with tools that range from files to air-driven grinders. The welders then step in to join the various pieces of the sculpture together, refining the seams until they are bled into the sculpture and invisible to the human eye.
Now that the sculpture is a unified whole, it is made pristine through sand-blasting and sent to the patina room. There, a cunning conflation of chemicals is applied to the surface of the bronze, conferring subtle shades and tones to the work. It is then sealed with a wax coating, which enriches the patina, then a lacquer coating is applied to protect the sculpture from the elements. A final wax coating is applied and then polished, leaving Ocean City with one more iconic, roughly 1,200 lb. sculpture that will ultimately serve to define it.
“I can and have worked with a variety of metals during my career,” shared David, who can, incredibly, step in and perform every aspect of the grueling process described above, “and even though each has its own unique characteristics, I truly prefer bronze for the overwhelming majority of applications. Industry-standard bronze these days is actually silicon bronze, which is 4% silicon, 95% copper and 1% manganese. It’s strong and durable yet malleable enough to be workable. It offers those singularly beautiful patinas, yet it’s corrosion resistant. I think the people of Ocean City and its visitors will be very pleased with the final result.”
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It had been a topic of conversation for several years in the Ocean City area, but things took a turn for the official on Feb. 18 when plans to install a dolphin sculpture near the Route 90 bridge entranceway got green-lighted during a regular session of the city council. Spearheaded by Lauren Taylor and Vicky Barrett of the Ocean City Development Corporation’s Public Art Committee, the project proposes to deploy a dolphin-themed statue in bronze at the southwest corner of Route 90 and Coastal Highway.
“We believe that this commissioned artwork will be yet another signature piece for the Town of Ocean City,” said Glenn Irwin, executive director of the OCDC. “Those involved knew they wanted the statue’s theme to be something emblematic of Ocean City, so dolphins seemed to be the ideal subject given how regularly they are seen here.”
The OCDC has launched a fundraising campaign to subsidize the sculpture, which is scheduled to become a permanent Ocean City resident in June. People who donate at least $1,000 will receive a plaque of acknowledgment affixed
to the base of the sculpture, while those contributing at least $2,000 will receive not only the commemorative base plaque but a keepsake miniaturized replica of the dolphin statue itself. As a charitable nonprofit organization, donations to the OCDC are tax deductible.
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