The Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) has been collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) on the creation of a bronze sculpture for inclusion in one of the museum’s upcoming exhibits. When completed, the sculpture will resemble boulder-size rocks on which visitors can sit, allowing them to interact with the surrounding sculptural tableau. Achieving a final result that closely resembled nature was a critical component of the work, which OEC model maker, Adam Metallo, accomplished with great success.
From the onset, the project was discussed extensively among the curator and project manager at NMNH; OEC’s model making team which included Adam Metallo, Natalie Gallelli, and Vincent Rossi; and the artist who will be undertaking the other sections of the tableau. Before the initial meeting, Metallo–an accomplished sculptor–conducted research on rocks in order to study a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes so that he could produce a generic model that was not geographically specific. His research was used to help Gallelli produce a small maquette, which Metallo and Gallelli took with them to the introductory meeting with NMNH staff. Once the maquette had been approved, Metallo was able to begin finalizing the sculpture’s details.
First, the outlines of the entire tableau were drawn on the floor. Then, the model making team used a variety of props to establish the proper height, width, and depth for the rock seating which needed to comfortably accommodate two adults, and be in proportion to the rest of the sculptural grouping. Once the dimensions and orientation of the seating had been determined, the next step in the process was to make a 3-D rendering of it in CAD software, which was subsequently printed out at full size to ensure that the sculpture was exactly as Metallo wanted it to be.
Metallo then glued 4″ thick strips of foam together to make a large block. He used electric hot knives and wire cutters to sculpt the basic shape of the rock; the fine detail was completed with butcher knives, hot knives, and sandpaper. Once the sculpting was finished, Metallo smoothed the surface of the foam with a heat gun which slightly melted the exterior, in order to remove the knife marks. Lastly, the foam was sprayed with plaster using a cup gun to give it a stone-like appearance.
A bronze casting of the model will be produced at a nearby foundry, and the touchable rock seating will be installed at the museum. As Metallo observed, “It is quite exciting and gratifying to be able to create something that will be on display at NMNH for many years to come. I am also pleased by the fact that visitors will be able to interact with it, enjoy it as a sculpture, as rock seating, and as part of an important exhibit.”
Written by Antonia Harbin.
photo 1: Adam Metallo–The rock seating model.
photo 2: Adam Metallo–Vincent Rossi, Carolyn Thome, and intern Matthew
Davis determine the appropriate height, width, depth, and
orientation of the rock seating.
photo 3: Antonia Harbin–The rock seating model.