A&A Students Visit Seward Johnson Atelier as Part of the A&A Undergraduate Mentorship Program

April 6, 2023

Along with learning about the spectrum of metal casting techniques, the group created their own works!

A&A graduate students Katy Knortz and Will Pedrick recently organized an excursion to the Johnson Atelier as part of the Art & Archaeology Undergraduate Mentorship Program.  Along with mentorship of junior and senior History of Art and Practice of Art majors, the program was created to foster academic enrichment along with a sense of community.  “A key goal of our program is to provide a space for graduate and undergraduate students to exchange knowledge and build rapport with one another,” said Knortz.  “Through this collaborative learning with local artists and art organizations, we are able to build upon these foundations to foster an open and collegial atmosphere within the A&A department.” 

A 30-foot bright silver statue of Lincoln looms over students in warehouse

A 30-foot bright silver statue of Lincoln looms over students in the Atelier (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

The excursion to the Johnson Atelier on the shared campus of another Seward Johnson-founded organization, the captivating Grounds For Sculpture absolutely met the mentorship program’s objectives.  In a two-part session, the group learned about the art of metal casting and put that knowledge into practice.

On a wonderfully comprehensive tour of the Johnson Atelier, Restoration Lead of Paint and Patina, Megan Uhaze led the group through the impressive gamut of available production techniques, from Seward’s traditional method to cutting-edge alternatives.

“Visiting the Seward Johnson Atelier helped me better understand the processes involved in the production of the ancient bronze statues that we study.” – A&A graduate student Will Pedrick

Students dip their gloved hands into buckets of black liquid

A&A graduate student Will Pedrick and undergraduate Emma Mohrmann dip their casts into the Aluma Black acid mixture. (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

“Visiting the Seward Johnson Atelier helped me better understand the processes involved in the production of the ancient bronze statues that we study,” said Pedrick. “The sculptors and patina experts at the atelier were extremely knowledgeable and were great teachers!”

Following ancient Greek tradition, Seward first created small models which he would scale up to the desired size in clay and then use the ancient lost wax method to make the mold. Seward worked meticulously and thoughtfully to create his ultra-real sculptures, allowing several months for an initial small-scale model to “cook” in his mind, as he put it, and work away at in his studio above Rats Restaurant at Grounds For Sculpture. 

Scaling up a model could mean creating a life-size figure—or a looming giant, as, for example, the 31-foot statue of Lincoln the group encountered in the warehouse during their tour. 

“The Johnson Atelier expands the capacity of artists through immersive making and creative collaboration—producing and preserving works of art and design and creating cultural experiences to enrich communities and inspire engagement.” —Lynn DeClemente Losavio, Johnson Atelier Program Officer


Four students stand in front of a massive sculpture of a bearded face

From left: Robert Yancey, Katy Knortz, Emma Mohrmann, and Will Pedrick pose with a giant's head in the Atelier warehouse. (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

In the wake of Seward’s death in 2020, the foundry is inhabited by many of his works in various stages of completion and is actively working on sculptures by countless artists, designers, architects, and for museums, using every technique imaginable. Advanced methods of sculpture production here utilize a variety of alternatives to bronze. The Digital Atelier works with artists to create models using 3-D milling that either become molds, casting patterns or the actual sculpture.  

Student reaches into large metal box

A&A Undergraduate student Emma Mohrmann gives her cast a bead blasted finish (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

As of the tour, A&A students are counted among artist clientele! Each of them created their own aluminum casts on the first visit and finished them with patinas on the second. When the group first set eyes on their casts in the patina room, they were thoroughly delighted with the results.  From this initial shiny silver cast, the group followed a series of steps to completion.  First, they prepped the surface of their castings for the patina by giving them a bead-blasted finish. 

Student rubs the surface of her cast
A&A graduate student Katy Knortz “rubs back” the patina on her cast (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Next, they dipped their works into the acid mixture Aluma Black A14 and agitated the surface with a brush for a matte black result.  Using a 3M abrasive pad, they “rubbed back” the black finish to create highlights as desired. And finally, they waxed their works to seal the effect.

Uhaze, who specializes in patinas, showed the group a variety of techniques.  Whereas the group employed a cold patina method in their works, Uhaze also demonstrated a hot patina to produce a verdigris effect.

A bronze hand gets dabbing of chemicals from a brush, releasing a puff of smoke

Megan Uhaze demonstrates the hot patina verdigris effect (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Heating the object with a blow torch, she dabbed a chemical on the hot bronze surface to produce the verdigris effect.  The wall of the patina room displayed countless variations using myriad formulas to produce a spectrum of effects.

The group came away with a rich understanding of metal casting and finishing, commemorated with their own beautiful examples.

“It felt like a playground for art and innovation!” said Knortz. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say we had an absolute blast!”

“It felt like a playground for art and innovation! I think I can speak for all of us when I say we had an absolute blast!” —A&A Graduate Student Katy Knortz

The group holds their bronze casts and laughs

Megan Uhaze, Emma Mohrmann, Will Pedrick, Katy Knortz, and Robert Yancey hold their finished works (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

The Johnson Atelier is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.