"French Bronze"1. "French Bronze," also known to foundry men as "spelter" is zinc refined to 99.97% purity. Spelter, as a pure metal, is extremely strong and durable and stands up to the ravages of time and environment without deteriorating. Because spelter can be joined by brazing, a complex design can be cast in several sections for subsequent fusing. For the same reason, "French Bronze" can be repaired, something not possible with the white pot metal used in making ordinary commercial castings.
2. "French Bronze" also designates the objets d'art made from this metal, using techniques devised by French craftsmen over a century ago. Now as in the past, the "French Bronze" method of casting provides a vehicle for reproducing the artists' original work. In sand casting and lost‑wax methods, the moulds are consumed by each casting. Conversely, the "French Bronze" method of casting preserves the moulds permanently.
The saga of the century‑old French moulds that went underground to escape World War II destruction reads more like a scenario for a motion picture thriller than a chapter in the history of art.
It all began in Paris in the second half of the 19th Century. A group of highly talented artists, trained at
L'Ecole des Beaux Arts, developed a distinctive style that epitomized the classical grandeur rooted in ancient Greece and Rome. French foundries began their now famous works in "French Bronze." Around the turn of the century the Beaux Art style was followed in popularity by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which were also cast in "French Bronze" by the same foundries.
One of the customers for these "French Bronzes" was the New York Art Bronze Works, later to become J.B. Hirsch Co., founded in 1907 by Roumanian emigre Joseph B. Hirsch. Hirsch and a few employees worked in a factory on New York's Lower East Side, producing ash trays, bookends, electroliers, and the newel‑post lamps used at the foot of staircase banisters in townhouses.
During World War II the French foundries could make no more statues. To prevent their destruction, the moulds were buried under factory floors and house cellars, the parts scrambled to ensure they would not be exploited in the event they were discovered.
Most French foundries did not resume business after peace was declared and the moulds remained buried. They might still be hidden if Abraham Hirsch had not heard of their existence. His trips to France to purchase the moulds turned into archaeological expeditions that yielded over two hundred objects. From 1948 through 1963, through a combination of prior knowledge, detective work and digging, they acquired the moulds of fifteen French foundries. Putting together this jigsaw puzzle of scrambled parts turned out to be almost as difficult as locating and acquiring them and it is an ongoing project at J.B. Hirsch Co. There are still hundreds of moulds to be assembled, a task which will take many years to accomplish. On the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the J.B. Hirsch Co. the Collection Francaise was exhibited at the Paris Lighting Exhibition in January, 1981.
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