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The Lost Wax process of making copper statues

Following the thousand year old tradition of Nepali sculpture artists, we produce our statues by the lost wax process.

The lost wax process begins with the making of a hollow wax mold of the sculpture to be produced. The wax figure is then covered inside and outside with a mixture of a special clay from Kathmandu Valley combined with rice straw and water. The first coating of the special clay and rice straw mixture is allowed to dry on and in the wax mold. The coating process is repeated several times, the number of layers of clay depending upon the size of the statue.

When all of the layers of the special clay mixture are dry, the next step of the process can occur. The hard clay mold is heated in a kiln so as to melt the wax inside the mold and let the wax drain from the mold. The space that once contained the wax mold is now empty and ready for the third stage of the process: casting.

While the wax is being melted out of the mold, metal for the sculpture is being melted in a separate oven. The clay mold will burn out in the kiln. The clay mixture surrounding the wax mold is prepared with rice straw so that it can burn easily and produce a vacuum in the clay mold. A vacuum is necessary to facilitate the spreading of the molten metal throughout the spaces in the clay mold vacated by the melted wax. When the clay mold is ready to receive the molten metal, the liquid metal is poured by hand into the clay mold. The metal is then left to cool and solidify in the clay mold.

Once the metal within the mold is cool and solid, the clay mold is broken and the new, raw, metal statue is removed. The sculpture is now ready for carving.

In the statue carving process, the raw metal is filed and smoothed, and the designs to be made in the metal are hammered and engraved. It is this part of the process that makes each piece of sculpture unique. The artistic and handcrafting skills necessary for the carving process requires years of study and experience. Experience is required for mastery of the wide range of chisels and other metalworking tools. Study is required so that the designs carved into the metal meet the requirements of the Buddhist canons of iconography.

Once the statue has been carved, it is ready for finishing. If the artist or the client wants a bright metal look, the statue is cleaned and polished. If a patina is desired, the statue is given a patina. If the statue is to be painted, it is now painted. If the statue or its face is to be gold plated, it is now gold plated with 24 karat gold.

The tradition in Nepal is that each part of the statue making process is the work of a specialist. The wax maker is a specialist, and only makes the wax molds. The clay mold specialist only makes and applies the special clay mixture to the hollow wax mold. Metal casting is also a specialist operation, as is carving and the various finishing operations that may be required. One statue may pass though the hands of six or seven specialists.

Each of the statue making specializations in Nepal are handed down from father to son throughout the generations. Nepali metal artists and craftsmen literally grow up in the business, and begin learning their art and their craft at an early age. Raju and Rajesh Shakya learned their skills from their father, and are now carrying out his tradition in Mahabuddha Art Center.


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