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USA - Loveland sculptors feeling the pinch of increasing oil prices

Loveland, Colorado - The beautiful glow of a polished sculpture is priceless. Unfortunately, a definite price can be put on the process and materials that go into creating the masterpieces.

Because sculpting requires expensive petroleum-based products and metals, sculptors are riding the tumultuous waves of the commodities markets like any other profession.

The rising cost of materials has artists and support businesses changing their ways: conserving materials, cutting their workdays short or passing the cost on down the creation chain.

The sales of monumental sculptures are still faring well, but the sales of smaller pieces are losing ground, according to Steven Vontsolos, owner of SAV Wax Pouring and Molds in Loveland.

“It makes a lot of sense that corporations, museums and universities are going to have the money, to have capital money, to spend on larger pieces,” said Tony Workman, Art Castings of Colorado general manager.

“Where it seems to have hurt is in pieces that the typical person can buy. If you’re going to eliminate discretionary spending, art might be one of the first places you have looked.”

In the past three months at supply store Sculpture Depot, owner Karen Richardson has received a letter or fax nearly daily alerting her about price increases on clay or wax.

Over three months, she has seen the prices of these materials increase about 20 percent to 30 percent, she said.

Most of her materials have increased in price, because resins and pails and containers are made with petroleum.

At first, her customers were upset about the prices, but now they don’t even question the increases, Richardson said.

The economy does have its benefits for the art supply business, according to Richardson.

“When the economy is bad, people are not traveling, and they go back to doing hobbies,” Richardson said.

Both Bronze Services of Loveland and Art Castings of Colorado have seen their bronze prices soar.

About four years ago, copper, which makes up 95 percent of bronze, was 67 cents a pound. This week, it was $3.84 a pound, said Tom O’Gorman, owner of Bronze Services.

There’s no way to conserve the metals, Workman said.

Art Castings uses about 30,000 pounds of copper or bronze every five weeks.

Since they can’t skimp on the staple, the only way to adjust to the prices is to pass the price on to customers, O’Gorman said.

To save on operational costs, Art Castings has gone to a 41/2-day workweek.

“We have a lot of equipment that uses a lot of electricity. The half day is helping some,” Workman said.

To cut costs during the creative process, Richardson’s clients have been reusing clay when possible, and some have looked into buying less-expensive water-based clay.

Some artists are also looking into cold-casting their own artwork, which costs about one-third as much as the traditional lost-wax casting method for bronze sculptures, Richardson said.

The cold-cast process incudes mixing a urethane resin with a metal powder and pouring the mixture into a mold to obtain a casting, which resembles solid metal.

After spending countless hours on the phone coaching her clients about the cold-casting process, Richardson decided to teach a class on the process at the end of the month.

Richardson’s son, Brian Dreith, who owns cold-casting business Custom Casting, will help teach the class.

“There are a whole bunch of different kinds of people looking for alternatives to doing bronze,” Dreith said.

Local sculptor Rosetta said she has been reusing clay and is trying to avoid raising her prices.

“Because of the economy, it’s just not a real good time to raise sculpture prices dramatically,” Rosetta said. “I’m just absorbing (the prices) and taking a little less profit.”

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