Fusing art

'It's very hot, you know, so don't touch it. You have to wait a long time before it is ready.' my young guide instructs me. Today, I am in his hands, to watch, learn and marvel at what his parents hands have wrought.

Four kilometers outside the picturesque town of Pienza stands Sant'Anna di Camprena. Probably most famous as the church used in the movie, "The English Patient", this 15th century monastery contains numerous frescoes by the notable Sodoma and some of the most beautiful views of the Val D'orcia.

It is in the shadow of this landmark that I find myself, at the home and studio of Stefano Breschi and Sarah Baker...and, of course my guide, Ducio (age 5). This old country house shaded by a majestic oak tree is host to dozens of students and artists who attend summer courses on art, sculpture, fresco, bonze casting.

At the same time, it serves as the permanent studio and exhibition space for Dedalo, an association of artists whose objective is to create group situations, where likeminded people from diverse cultures can meet to talk, exchange ideas and create.

But today it is fall...the students are gone, teachers have returned to their lives and Sarah and Stefano are desparately trying to get one more casting done before they, too, go back to Luca for the winter. Sarah explains that this is more difficult than I may think. The woman she is attempting today has already been cast twice before, each time without success.

Stefano will be making another piece for his massive work of an owl.  When finished, it will stand one meter in height and incorporate 22 separate pieces.

So with the entourage looking on, they set about the task of melting the copper and tin in the outside foundary they have built.

While waiting for the bronze, Stefano explains the process and shows me the various pieces that have preceded this moment.

"The first step is to make a wax model of the finished piece. This will be used to form the mold into which the molten bonze will flow."

"I find this one of the more satisfying jobs because there is the raw feeling of creation in your hands and the satisfaction of being able to control the piece from start to finish."

"After this, during the making of the mold and the actual casting...things are much more in the hands of fate, luck and the moment. This woman of Sarah's is a perfect example. She just does not want to be caste."

"Once the mold broke and the other time and an entire leg went missing...probably due to an air bubble."

"But with the wax, you can bend and form, even add texture to the final piece, all through the way you handle the material. The only limitation really is the bronze and how it will flow through the mold or how the air will get out."

Using the wax model, a mold of clay and composites is formed around it and allowed to dry for 24 to 48 hours. These molds are then placed inside two open-ended steel drums, packed with sand and readied for the bronze.

But one can't get the impression that this is being done in a studio in SOHO or some austere isolation. We are standing outside a 16th century farm house under what would have been the cantina but now has no roof.

The children are playing on a tire swing in the oak tree while neighbors and villagers pass by on their endless hunt for porcini mushrooms.

Occasionally, someone will stop and ask what we are cooking. Despite their look of enthusiasm regarding the couple's work, one can't help but notice the slight disappointment that this pot does not contain a simmering Sunday feast.

Well, pasta or not, the brew is ready and the casting begins...not a bit too soon from Sarah's perspective.  In less than a matter of minutes, with the skill and care of those who know their craft and respect the dangers involved, the molds have been filled.

Throughout the tensest moments, there remained my trustee guide Ducio telling the other children to watch out and making sure I didn't get too close with my camera.  With the foundry off and the extra bronze set aside, it's time for us to move on to another pot...the one that was filled with pasta, as we await the cooling bronze and the outcome.

Following an extensive meal of chipatis and vegetable samosas...not your typical Italian fair but Sarah's vegetarian... the mold's were broken and the brush readied.

Like an archeologist slowly and delicately uncovering the find of the century, Sarah's brush searched out any obvious holes before scoring off the remaining clay of the mold.

I found my self wanting to yell out, "Just get on with it so we can see if it is alright." But slowly a face began to emerge; then an arm; and finally a leg.

The mold had held and with the exception of some minor bubbles which are normal, I am told, the Woman emerged from the ashes.

With this success in hand, we packed up the furnace, loaded up their cars and saw Sarah, Stefano, Ducio and Sophia off to their winter home in Luca.  They and their students will return next year.