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Bronzart Foundry creates art for sites around the world

Molten bronze is poured from the crucible into a series of molds at Bronzart Foundry.
Molten bronze is poured from the crucible into a series of molds at Bronzart Foundry.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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A statue of baseball player Ted Williams at Fenway Park. A flying fish sculpture at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas. A Dumbo statue seen at Magic Kingdom around the time of the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World.

What do they all have in common?

These bronze castings can be traced back to a single source: Bronzart Foundry in Sarasota.

Creating bronze castings like these is an art that is slowly disappearing, with few such sites found in the country, yet since 1979, the fires have been burning at Bronzart Foundry, a place tucked away in a business park in Sarasota. 

“Being a small business, it’s a delicate place,” said foundry owner Wayne Dyer. “It’s amazing it’s been around so long, but it would take a couple of bad moves to make it disappear too.”

Keeping the fire alive

The foundry owes its ongoing success and methodology to Richard Frignoca, who opened the business with his wife Tam Frignoca.

Richard and Tam met at the University of Arizona, where he obtained a master’s in fine arts and sculpture and she obtained a degree in fine arts, and they eventually moved to Sarasota around 1975 before starting the foundry in 1979.

Before Richard died in 2014, he passed on his skills to Wayne, his son-in-law, over a period of 10 years.

Tam said many foundries have failed due to the high overhead costs and the materials and labor involved. She said her husband’s methods have kept the business thriving.

Green flames appear as the bronze is heated.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“My husband was so knowledgeable, and people loved to talk to him while he was working and he did beautiful patinas,” Tam said.

Patinas are a coating on a bronze surface created by exposure to air and water.

“This is a place where fingers and people still touch the art,” said Marielle Dyer, the daughter of Richard and Tam and the wife of Wayne Dyer. “So many foundries are done by machine, but these are touched by artists with a good eye and care, and that’s a rare thing.”

Many current customers have been returning for over 20 years, while word of mouth among artists has kept the business alive, she said.

Dylan and Wayne Dyer pour bronze from the crucible.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The range of clients the foundry has served is varied, and the sculptures it casts have been transported around the world.

Some of the landmarks in Sarasota it has cast include the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and the dolphin fountain at Marina Jack.

Pieces in other locations include a statue of baseball player Evan Longoria that will be featured at the new stadium of the Tampa Bay Rays and a statue of surfer Kelly Slater in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Many pieces are shipped around the world. The foundry is even responsible for casting the Mother Teresa International Caring Award that was offered in 2011 to the current Dalai Lama.

In an ongoing relationship with The Walt Disney Company over the years, they have also done multiple pieces for Disney theme parks. 

The original Dumbo from which the bronze casting was created rests on a shelf inside the foundry.
Photo by Ian Swaby

For instance, they have provided replacements for the bronze bats bridging the chains in the queue area of the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom, after they became worn from being touched by multiple visitors. 

Although the Dumbo statue was one of 50 pieces for the 50th anniversary of Disney World, Disney ultimately contracted the other castings to a location in Texas, which had the technology to model the sculptures digitally, without having to obtain a physical model. 

Wayne said Disney was still happy with the results of the first piece. 

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Wayne said. “This place has so much history. It's amazing the amount of artwork that has come through here and been distributed all over the world, actually, not just the country, and to be a part of that is almost hard to describe.”

Artistic challenge

Working in a bronze foundry is a challenging responsibility.

It may be four to eight months before a piece has been through all of the steps towards completion.

The process begins with creating a wax duplicate from the original sculpture. The wax version is dipped in slurry and silica sand, creating a hard outer shell, out of which the wax is melted, before the bronze is poured inside.

Examples of wax replicas.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Sculptures are cast in multiple sections, which means they must be welded together and smoothed over to create the appearance of one piece. 

At Bronzart Foundry, Wayne said, this means doing so without any visible welds or grind marks.

“One thing this Bronzart has above the rest is the quality,” he said. “We have a reputation for the highest quality, because we take our time with each and every piece, and make sure it's perfect. … That was one thing I promised my father-in-law, that he taught me, was that you can’t let any piece go out the door unless it’s perfect, because if you do, then the brand suffers.”

E. Dwight Conley picks up the silica sand used in the casting process.
Photo by Ian Swaby

E. Dwight Conley, who has worked at the foundry since 1979, has performed about 5,000 pours over the years.

He knew he wanted a career in metalwork at the time he was a student at Ringling College, from which he graduated with honors in 1980.

Even so, he still serves in a role with many hazards.

“It's brutal on your body; you just can’t help getting scarred up after years and years and years,” he said.

Conley has created bronze castings of numerous original pieces as well, some of which can be found at the Madeby Gallery at Ringling College, which offers work by students and alumni for sale.

Bronze castings are displayed inside the foundry.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Kendall Oswalt, a worker at the foundry of 29 years, said he also felt drawn to the field, having been involved in art his whole life.

“This isn't a great business to make money. It's not for the workers and not really for the owners," he said. "But I just like making things well. Making them good. I can’t work a normal boring job. I can’t stand the monotony, and this is really constantly changing stuff, always figuring out different problems.”

Lisa Seaboyer of Madeby Gallery found herself impressed during her first visit to the site.

"It just blows you away that so much talent is there, and what they're doing what they're trying to accomplish, and how they're so much internationally and nationally known, too, which is great," she said.

This article has been updated with E. Dwight Conley's full name upon first reference.


Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.