Student Portfolio: veterans memorial arbor bronze bust

In the spring of 2016, Aldrige Gardens, in association with Vettes-4-Vets, a non-profit organization that annually plans, organizes and oversees fundraising events to help Veterans, current military personnel and/or their family members in distress and need, had begun the construction of the Veterans Memorial Arbor, an outdoor memorial for Alabama veterans. In this memorial, two cast bronze busts of remembered Alabamian veterans were proposed to be positioned on each side of a columned entrance to a commemorative sanctuary. I was contacted by Mark Davis, president of Vettes-4-Vets, to consult and assist in the completion of one of the two busts that will be permanently displayed at the memorial site in Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama. I decided to turn over the project to a skilled sculpture senior student, Bryce Martinez, in order to assist in the student’s professional development. Originally, this project was unfunded, but I saw the potential value in UAB Department of Art & Art History’s involvement as well as the professional recognition for Martinez. Together, the student and I wrote a proposal to have the bust funded by UAB’s 2016 President’s Summer Research Scholarship, which would allow Martinez to be compensated for his artistic skill and time. We also arranged for the UAB Department of Art & Art History, UAB Materials Engineering Department and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa Department of Art & Art History’s Foundry to donate the materials, supplies and facilities to complete the project at no cost to Vettes-4-Vets.

The Veterans Memorial Arbor Commemorative Bronze Bust project was awarded the scholarship in the summer of 2016 to produce a bust likeness to Lance Corporal Thomas E. Rivers, Jr., who was killed in action in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in April 2010. The bust was sculpted in wax and then completed in the lost wax and ceramic shell processes at the UA Department of Art & Art History’s foundry with the assistance of Craig Wedderspoon, Professor of Sculpture. The majority of the bust was developed through the observation of images of Rivers and hand-sculpting, however, Martinez was also able to obtain the metal chevrons in order to produce molds that could later be poured in wax and then applied to the uniform. Throughout the process of sculpting, Martinez had continually met with the Rivers family and Mark Davis to be certain that the likeness and the placement of the metal chevrons and service stripes were accurate.

Once the piece was completed and approved by the Rivers family, Martinez worked extensively at the UA Department of Art & Art History’s foundry to produce a rubber mold of the original bust just in case any problems occurred during the ceramic shell or metal casting processes. Then Martinez sectioned the wax bust into parts to be easily reconstructed once in bronze to make for more manageable ceramic shell molds. The wax was later melted out of the molds and poured in silicone bronze, welded back together and finished with a patina and wax sealer.

On November 7, 2016, Martinez, Wedderspoon, and I were mentioned and thanked during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Veterans Memorial Arbor to the public. This project highlighted the interdisciplinary work between art and engineering and the role of art in the public setting.