I did the first fire today! Exhilarated, Exhausted, and 6 pieces into my work. Well, sort of, now the sanding starts… the other half.
We got the materials together, and started working by 7:30. 20 kilos of bronze, a mountain of charcoal, a pile of wood, and this steel refrigerator part that they use to melt the bronze in… ready to go.( Basically the refrigerator part is a big steel cup.) We started by wrapping all of the molds in wire and little steel bars. These were secured in place with donkey poo, which is like clay but stronger apparently. Then we put the molds in a circle around the fire, and waited for them to start smoking. When smoking, the wax is melted, and you can pore it into a bucket of water, where it floats until you need it again. All that is left of the sculpture is the ceramic negative, the mold. After all the wax was melted out, and the molds are empty we piled the molds up with wood, and let them fire. As a ceramicist in the US, I really laugh at how simple the process can be. I thought that you needed a lot more then a pile of wood to fire clay, but in West Africa, I have learned otherwise. The fire cant get as hot as a kiln, but it does its job just fine.
While firing the molds, we started the forge. The forge is a bycicle wheel attached to a fan with a rubber belt. Think popped bike tube that si way too big stretched around wheels There is a handle welded onto the bicycle wheel. When you turn the wheel, it spins the fan, which is embedded in the ground. Under the fan, underground, is a tube, which ends in a big hole in the ground, 3 feet away. The hole is full of a little charcol fire. When air is pushed into the fire, through the tube attaced to the fan, The charcol gets really hot. Hot enough to melt bronze. The refrigerator part steel cup is sitting in the carcol pit, full of old doorknobs, and random plumbig things. This is the bronze. Recycling has been cool in Africa for way longer then It has been in the US.
We all take turns spinning the bicycle wheel, for about an hour and a half, the bronze heats up and becomes beautiful magma. Meanwhile, when the molds have finished firing, they are set up in a line, with the opening pointed up. We pour the molten bronze into the molds, one at a time. When they are all full, we crack the ceramic and the sculptures are inside. The end feels how I imagine it is to be a dinosaur bone digger and find something that is really exciting even when you know it will be in there. Cracking the mold and finding my own sculpture makes me feel like an alchemist. One after another my little friends and brain children emerge, cracks still full of burnt clay. Aaaagh, wow. Tomorrow we will begin sanding.