Artworks from the furnace
It’s as if he’d never been away. Ludwig Richter has once again been enjoying the view from his traditional site on Brühl’s Terrace in Dresden since his 210th birthday. Larger than life, the statue of the poet and honorary citizen of Dresden is now back where it belongs after being ripped from its pedestal in 1943 and melted down for a war that was already lost. The fact that the figure has been re-erected after 70 years is a tribute to the efforts of many dedicated Saxons and a small art foundry on the outskirts of the city.
Teaming with artists to create artworks
Thomas Ihle’s workroom is full of fascinating objects. Shields that look as if they come from ancient Rome, small sculptures and inscribed tablets all stand side by side with a state-of-the-art 3D printer. “I’m experimenting with making casting moulds,” says the 48-year-old, with a nod towards the hightech device. Ihle and his brother set up the Bildguss art foundry in 1990; in 2008 the workshop moved to a former industrial area in north Dresden. It’s here that the new Ludwig Richter statue first saw the light of day, albeit in several pieces. “A figure this size is too large to be cast as a single piece,” explains Thomas Ihle. Before he set up his own business, the trained mouldmaker and chaser worked in a large foundry where he was responsible for precision work after the casting process, and fine details remain very important to him. “We work a lot with artists and ambitious amateurs,” says Ihle, who appreciates that they often have “a very specific vision” of the end result. But creating a finished artwork is a long process. It all starts with a plaster model. For smaller castings, this can be made of wax or a special type of plastic from a 3D printer. The model is used to form the mould, which in the case of large statues often consists of dozens of pieces.
Sculptures to last an eternity
The four other employees and one trainee in the foundry spend most of their time on preparatory work. That means the casting furnace is only heated up once a week, bringing the metal alloy for the casting up to several hundred degrees Celsius. “Our specialists know what the temperature is from the colour of the molten material,” explains Thomas Ihle. This expert knowledge is essential, he says, because “some moulds are better suited to runny metal and others to less fluid metal”. After the casting has cooled, it’s time for the precision work, which consists of joining the individual pieces together, fettling and patinating. The artists themselves often get involved at this stage. “The process usually takes around three weeks from model to metal sculpture,” says Ihle. And the wonderful thing is that most of the works are produced to last a very long time. If you keep an eye out as you walk around Dresden, you will spot numerous works that have originated in this part of the city, including Richter on Brühl’s Terrace, the Wagner plaque near the Frauenkirche church and the statue of Europa riding a bull on Königsheimplatz.