Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Grossmont Sculpture Department Offers New Twist On Old Art Forms

December 19, 2013 2:21 p.m.

Lost wax bronze casting is a 5000 year old art form but it is getting a new twist at the Grossmont College Sculpture Department. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando visits the foundry to speak with Professor Jim Wilsterman about teaching art in a public context.

Related Story: How To Make An Orc Sword


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Lost wax bronze casting is a 5000 year old art form but it is getting a new twist at the Grossmont College Sculpture Department. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando visits the foundry to speak with Professor Jim Wilsterman about teaching art in a public context.

TAG: Watch Beth’s video about the Grossmont College Foundry and the making of the orc sword at K-P-B-S-dot- O-R-G.

If you’ve ever driven down the 125 freeway and noticed some stainless steel clouds atop a 150 foot mushroom-shaped, rust-colored water tower, well Jim Wilsterman made that. It was part of a public art venture called the Helix/Padre Dam Cloud Project that was done in 1996.

JIM WILSTERMAN: I do a lot of public projects and a lot of museum installations and the work that I do requires that I switch media to whatever is appropriate for that so a lot of times I work in stainless steel or granite, bronze… and so whatever is most appropriate for what I’m doing.

Wilsterman is a mixed media artist and professor of sculpture at Grossmont College. He has a passion for what he does and fought to make his department the best it can be.

JIM WILSTERMAN: We had inadequate facilities for years, our college district floated a bond called Prop R and we were identified as one of the programs most in need of having new facilities so they not only built us a good facility it’s a great facility, one of the largest ones in the state.

It includes something most campuses lack -- a foundry where students can do lost wax bronze casting.

JIM WILSTERMAN: Bronze casting is very traditional there are a lot of ways of doing it that arrive at the same results… We use a Mifco furnace, it is a very hi-tech, high velocity furnace, it runs at about 1.2 million BTUs, and we take it up to about 2300 degrees to melt the bronze and then we pull the crucible out which is the container that the bronze goes into, and then we take the molds and heat them, the wax runs out and we can replace it with bronze or another metal.

The equipment may be state of the art but the technique dates back to India in 3500 BC. But some things are still done the old-fashioned way.

CLIP SFX hammering sword

Sculpture student Joshua Sprague works on an orc sword he fashioned after the one in The Lord of the Rings movie. He cast the sword in bronze and is now fine tuning the blade with a ball peon hammer and anvil.

JOSHUA SPRAGUE: Well I am about to continue cold forging the Uruk-hai scimitar and giving it a few more hits, the texture there is all cold forging and just going to straighten it out a little bit more but it’s all part of the process.

Wilsterman says the program Grossmont offers is not found at many other schools.

JIM WILSTERMAN: It used to be offered at many schools in San Diego county now there’s only 3 that have a program similar to this, this is the largest one. Our program here is geared toward teaching public art and art fabrication.

That combination of public art and sculpture is key to Wilsterman who recently revised curriculum so a new and more fitting degree can be offered to Grossmont students.

JIM WILSTERMAN: Where it is more specific to the facilities and that we can offer students because now have these new capabilities so the degree is going to be called Sculpture and public art, it’s been a long time dream of mine to sort of weld those things together and teach about them.

Wilsterman is excited about this new degree because while other institutions have been successful at teaching art theory and processes, most artists are not trained to deal with public administrations, contractors, politicians, civic leaders, and with lawyers and contracts.

JIM WILSTERMAN: There’s not a lot of people that train artists to be public artists. They learn about how to make sculpture or about how to make paintings and other things like that but they don’t really teach them about how to function in the public context and that’s been something that’s my specialty.

His goal is to train artists to be fluent in what it takes to do art in public places, and to successfully design and compete for commissions. That’s because Wilsterman identified the biggest area of growth in funding the arts has been in realm of art in public places. So now there’s a course described as: “Public Art through a commissioning process. The course will cover several aspects and methods used in the production of commissioned works. Issues examined will include negotiation, design and budget through procurement of materials, fabrication and installation.” Plus, the department will attempt to secure an actual commission for students during the course. That’s putting traditional forms of art in a new and more practical context for students.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.