Western Washington’s only major artists’ foundry, Tacoma’s Bronze Works, is closing after 15 years under two owners.
The foundry, near South 25th Street and Fawcett Avenue, once employed more than 20 craftspeople creating cast and welded metal sculptures from artists’ clay models. When general manager Kevin Keating told the staff last Friday that the business was closing, the staff was down to seven. Keating said the foundry, whose last major piece was the Goddess of Commerce – a modernized recreation of a statue that stood atop the old Downtown Tacoma Chamber of Commerce Building before it was demolished – simply didn’t have enough work to continue on.
“We make a luxury product. When you’re in a recession, people just aren’t interested in luxury products,” he said. Several major projects that the foundry had hoped to produce were canceled because of the sour economy.
A handful of sculptures destined to be placed along the Commencement Bay waterfront on the site of a $1 billion mixed-use development on the site of the former Asarco copper mill, Point Ruston, were put on hold when the housing market froze. A major sculpture scheduled to decorate the front of the new Olympia City Hall was eliminated after the city was forced to make major budget trims.
And smaller individual pieces weren’t selling the way they did during headier times, said the foundry’s manager. “We began to feel it about two years ago,” Keating said, “but because of the time needed to create major works, we had work that had been commissioned before the economy got bad.”
The foundry created metal sculptures mostly from bronze, but also occasionally from aluminum. Its work ranged from the truly monumental such as the huge Logging Legacy sculpture in Enumclaw to more modest pieces such as the statute of former chicken farmer and unabashed Tacoma booster Allen C. Mason in Tacoma’s Proctor business district. Keating said he cut back staff members as the business dwindled, but in the end, the business wasn’t enough to sustain the foundry.
Gig Harbor sculptor John Jewell said the Tacoma area will lose not just another business but a team of skilled craftspeople who developed unique expertise in creating bronze sculptures. “I’ll miss talking with the people, consulting with them and sharing their company,” he said. With the foundry closed and liquidated, he’ll have no nearby foundries where he can have his sculptures made into metal.
The nearest such foundries are in Walla Walla, Portland or Joseph, Ore., he said. Traveling to one of those foundries to watch over the casting process will be both time consuming and costly, he said.
Bronze Works created metal sculptures not only for local artists but for sculptors around the nation and the world, said Keating. He expects that the bank will auction off the foundry’s equipment, and his staff will scatter. Some of them are planning to do casting on a smaller scale.
For now, he’s busy trying to reunite all of the molds Bronze Works created with the sculptors who own them. Once that task is done, he’s unsure what he’ll do.
“I’m still coping with the harsh reality of what’s happened,” he said Tuesday.