Walking into Vanguard Sculpture Services provides an immediate sensory experience, both visual and auditory. A new gallery beckons with bronze and torch cut metal sculptures of varying sizes, free standing on the floor and mounted on the walls. Against this backdrop, the sounds of hands-on art making in a 22,000-foot full services foundry are heard.
Incorporated since 1996, Vanguard is well known to Milwaukee artists, and to artists throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. From mold making of original art, to enlarging scale models, bronze casting, fabrication, installation, restoration, repair, patina and original art and design, the foundry’s artists produce museum-quality castings. Their works range from life-size sculptures for parks to screens for fireplaces to bowls for display.
Now, owners Beth Sahagian ’81 (Sculpture) and Michael Nolte ’81 (Sculpture) have expanded and created the Gallery at Vanguard to “showcase what we can do, how we can meet the needs of various artists and provide a place for prospective clients to see what we’re about.”
Through a retrospective of bronze sculptures cast at Vanguard since 1996, “Founders, Sculptors and Metal Performers” features works by more than 20 artists, including Sculpture alumni Nolte and Sahagian, Chris Andrews ’91, Lois Johnson ’95, Jeremy Wolf ’99, Cindy Rust Saiia ’04 and Care Epko ’06, and current and former faculty Jill Sebastian and Joe Mendla. Epko also works at the foundry.
“Everybody who’s showing here has a different relationship to the art foundry,” Sahagian explains. “It would take someone like me to tell the story. If you come in, I’ll give you a tour of the foundry and I’m going to spend time with you.”
The gregarious Sahagian plans to do just that, especially when “Founders, Sculptors and Metal Performers” closes on February 17 with a reception and bronze pour from 6-9 p.m. But she’s eagerly looking forward to the next exhibition, a retrospective of Bernard J. Roberts bronze castings and wood forms, which opens in July 2012.
Sahagian and Nolte didn’t plan to start a foundry originally. Both Vanguard founders got their start with Joe Mendla, one of the original founders of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, at his foundry, Hartbronze, Inc. When Hartbronze closed, the clients needed somewhere to go and the employees needed a job. Sahagian explains, “The mold makers said ‘I’ll make the molds if you make the waxes, and Mike will do the metal in his garage.'”
Before they knew it, they needed to rent a space, buy a building and hire employees. What started as a way to make a little extra money snowballed into the highly respected foundry that Vanguard Sculpture Services is today.
Sahagian and Nolte are also very involved in the community, having participated in last summer’s In:Site Public Art Project, “On and Off Capitol,” which featured artworks about environmental and infrastructure needs in the area near Vanguard. That project kicked off with artists’ tours and a reception at Vanguard. Sahagian and Nolte look to continue involvement in future community art opportunities, and to bring more artists to “The Corridor,” the area where Vanguard is located.
Watch a video of the Vanguard foundry crew pour molten bronze into ceramic molds.
Click here for more information on Vanguard Sculpture Services.
Top image: The Gallery at Vanguard
Second image (left): Michael Nolte, (right): Beth Sahagian
Bottom image: Casting of a wax at Vanguard