In fine form
John Jewell B.A. '66, M.Ed. '69: How to make a giant bronze statue, in 18 not-so-easy steps
By Cathy Tollefson '83
After more than 30 years as an educator, John Jewell settled in to the kind of life you’d expect of a retiree: playing with his three preschool-aged granddaughters, taking occasional trips, and volunteering in his wife, Andrea’s, and daughter, Laura’s, kindergarten classrooms at Vaughn Elementary School.
All that hasn’t changed, but his life is a lot busier these days. What was once a hobby has become a full-time second career.
In the late ’80s, John had his first experience with art. “My son, John Michael, and I had been taking sailing lessons together,” he says, “and, also wanting to do something special with Laura, I signed us up for a pottery class that she wanted to take. I found that I loved to work in clay and began attending sculpture workshops. I was so enthused with this medium that I decided to become the best sculptor I could be.
“When I was at UPS and when I got my doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado in 1977,” says John, “I never would have imagined that I would become a sculptor, as I had never shown any artistic interest or ability.”
Following a practice he learned from Don Duncan, his old UPS swim coach, John made a written plan for achievement and set high goals for himself: sculpting a minimum of four hours a day, learning from the best, enjoying sculpting, expanding his network, and drawing every day. John says he evaluates how he’s doing each December and makes new goals for the upcoming year.
“I took every class I could find that would benefit me,” he says. Among them, a ceramics class with UPS Professor of Art John McCuistion and a painting and drawing class from retired UPS art Professor Melissa Weinman Jagosh.
“John McCuistion taught me to have fun while doing the work,” says John. “And Melissa’s anatomy lessons were crucial to my understanding of classical figurative art.”
John was a quick study. After winning a first place at the Western Washington state fair for a sculpture of two children, he donated his first life-size public sculpture to his home town of Vaughn, Wash. It stands at the Key Center branch of Pierce County libraries.
People started noticing John’s talent, and it wasn’t long before he was asked to create a larger-than-life sculpture of Meriwether Lewis and his dog, Seaman, for the entrance to Fort Lewis. The permanent installation took place on Sept. 30, 2005. Here’s what went into making it:
John studied paintings of Lewis and worked with the curator of the Fort Lewis Military Museum to ensure the authenticity of the uniforms and the gear depicted. He also consulted with the Newfoundland Club of Seattle and a veterinarian in recreating what Seaman would have looked like in 1803.
Using an Army volunteer as a live model, he created a 2-foot maquette or design of the proposed statue.
Caliper measurements were taken from the maquette and multiplied to determine the final size of the monument.
4. Frame it
An armature was constructed out of pipe and aluminum foil.
5. Drape it
Sheets of clay were hung over the form to create the anatomical figure.
6. Carve it
After a year of work making sure that every detail was transferred properly, the full-size clay model was ready for the bronze process.
7. Move it
The clay monument was trucked to the Bronze Works foundry in Tacoma.
8. Section it
The foundry staff, with John’s consultation, divided the Lewis sculpture into 18 sections for casting in separate pieces.
9. Negative impression
A mold was made using liquid silicon covered by a rigid support shell.
10. Waxy buildup
Successive layers of molten wax were poured into the mold.
11. Chasing the wax
The wax was removed from the mold and retouched by John and the staff.
12. Spruing and gating
Vents, gates, and pouring cups were added to the wax sections.
13. Ceramic shell
The pattern was dipped into a granular silica (stucco), forming a coating over the wax. Once dry, the shell preparation continued by melting out the wax interior to form a hollow ceramic shell.
14. The pour
Bronze was then poured into the shell, as the Lewis Committee members watched anxiously.
The metal-filled shell was allowed to cool. John got the first swing with a hammer to remove the brittle form.
John worked closely with the welders as the individual pieces were welded together. This is to make sure that no details are obliterated or ground down in the process.
Chemicals were applied to create the desired finish.
With the help of quarry men, the Lewis sculpture was mounted on a 5-foot stone pedestal.
Next project for John: a bronze of the Corps of Discovery’s Sgt. John Ordway, who was a squad leader on the expedition. It will be the Army’s first statue dedicated to a non-commissioned officer.
“I credit my wife, Andrea Watt Jewell ’66, for her contributions,” John says. “None of this would have happened without her 100 percent support. Ever since UPS, where we met 40 years ago, she has been interested in art. It finally rubbed off on me.”