Meeting art in the park

YOU can't tell, but this balloon man and his little customer actually stand in a park. They are made of bronze, and are part of a group of figures of people their sculptor, Joann Amparan, saw in Central Park in New York City. She saw a man jogging in the rain with an umbrella over his head. Another one is a mother who is trying out her son's skateboard. And, of course, there are people sitting on park benches and strolling on the paths.

This young man selling balloons Amparan thinks of as having just come to the United States from the Mideast. He has not yet learned enough English to get a good job. He sells balloons because he loves children, and being with them eases his loneliness in a strange, new land.

Amparan began her career making ceramic clay sculptures and firing them. But she wanted to see her works in bronze. To do this is a much harder and longer process. She begins by modeling clay, adding bits of clay to a metal form called an armature. Her figures have beautiful, realistic detail which she must be very careful not to lose in the succeeding steps.

Next she coats the figure carefully with several layers of thin liquid rubber. Then several sections of plaster are built around the rubber-coated figure to form what is called the ``mother mold.''

After this, the rubber mold is cut away from the soft clay model, which is often destroyed by this step. The rubber mold is carefully cleaned and replaced into the ``mother mold.'' Now hot, melted wax is poured into it. When this is cooled, the artist frees it from both the other two molds. She goes over the wax duplicate of her clay figure to see that it is perfect and has no tiny bumps or air bubbles. This is a most important step, as the bronze statue will turn out exactly like this wax model.

The final step is done at a foundry. The wax figure is put into a container surrounded by a sandy mix like concrete. Pipes, called sprues, through which the molten or liquid metal is poured have been attached to it. The hot bronze melts the wax and takes its place. It is very exciting for the artist to see a heavy bronze statue come out.

This ``lost wax'' method has been used almost since the beginning of the prehistoric Bronze Age, when it was first discovered that mixing copper and tin, which are soft metals, makes a hard metal, bronze.

In the final stage, the surface of the statue must be ``chased,'' or finished. Sometimes acids are used to make a colored film called a ``patina.''

``The girl,'' Amparan relates, ``is also a newcomer to New York. She is from a Hispanic family. Like the balloon seller, she doesn't yet understand this country. But she has $2 which her daddy gave her from his new job as a dishwasher. She has never seen anything as wonderful as the shiny, heart-shaped balloon. She will buy it and bring it home to her daddy.''

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