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Casting Copper Buddha Statues - Lost Wax Casting
Windhorse Imports stock a number of fine copper statues made by the “Lost Wax” or “Cire Perdue” process of manufacture. This method has been used by Newari artists since the middle ages and the skills passed down through generations of the statue -making Shakya clan. The lost wax process allows for the production of finer and more detailed statues than can be achieved with other methods of casting. Each statue is a unique piece, as the original model is destroyed in the casting process. The various stages of manufacture are not necessarily performed by one artist, and the statue may pass through various pairs of hands according to the specialisations involved. A statue can take several weeks, or even months to be completed. Having witnessed the manufacture of these statues on a number of occasions, we have attempted to describe the full procedure here.(Picture below used courtesy of Handmade Nepal)
Firstly the model is made with Beeswax. The proportions of each figure are made according to navatala system, a method of producing the ideal figure and used in Tibetan Buddhist art for centuries. Here the artist is seen modelling a head in wax. Some larger figures are made in several parts
The wax model is then covered in a mixture of clay and rice bran, and allowed to dry. Another coat of clay and dung is then applied and allowed to dry, and then a third. The mould when completely dried is placed over a gentle charcoal fire on metal grids and gradually warmed until the wax has melted. These empty moulds will then be collected together until the day arrives for casting.
Then, on the day of casting, moulds are aligned in an upright position with an aperture for the metal exposed at the top. Copper is heated in a furnace at over 1800 degrees and then carefully poured into the top of each mould. Once the metal has set the moulds are put into cold water and the clay removed.
The statue emerges in its rough form, and then a great deal of work goes into the finishing. In the pictures below you can see the artist holding the copper statue between his feet while he works on it with a fine chisel and hammer. He accentuates the fine detailing of the hair, mouth, lips, expression and clothing. The item is then put in a mild acid bath so that the surface is clean and ready for the gold application.
An amalgam of gold and mercury is painted onto the surface of the statue. The statue is then heated with a blow torch until the mercury has vaporized, leaving just the fine layer of gold. The surface is then burnished and polished. (The photo below are used courtesy of the Huntington Archive, Ohio State University)
The face painting is a separate process, usually done by a different artist. Gold powder is applied to the face and then the features carefully painted on top. This surface remains fragile and great care must be taken by anyone owning one of these wonderful statues, not to use anything even slightly abrasive on the face.
These lost wax statues are often to be found in Tibetan Buddhist temples, sometimes in very large numbers. Often blessed items are sealed inside the body of the figures.
Unfortunately many of the younger generation of the crafting families are leaving Nepal to find more lucrative, if less skilled, work in Arab countries. It is our hope that by supporting these families and their co-operatives, the skills will be preserved within their communities for the future. Visit our online shop to see our selection of copper statues which we select personally on our visits to Nepal.