Arts & Culture

Art on Fire

Story and Media by
Anne Sanders
Media by
Robert Eric Summerfield
Written by
Anne Sanders

For most people, an elementary school classroom was the last place they created a piece of art. For others, artistry appropriates a major portion of their lives. For Patrick (Pat) Garley, owner of Arctic Fires Bronze Sculptureworks, located in Palmer, Alaska, the desire to create and build was honed while working in the construction industry. A casting course in New Mexico awoke a love for the medium of metal casting and sculpting, and instilled in Pat the determination to make the creation of metal art his full-time occupation.

Entering Pat’s foundry was a step into completely unfamiliar territory. It was an introduction to an art medium with its own lexicon, processes, and instruments of age-old origins. Casting is a form of metal work that has been around for thousands of years, and even with modern conveniences, the basic principles have remained the same. Metal is liquefied in a furnace and poured into a mold. Once the metal solidifies the mold is removed and the metal cast remains. The procedure may initially seem rather basic, but the actual casting of the metal is only one step in a long, time and energy consuming process.

Pat describes the formation of a metal sculpture via metal casting as a sort of evolutionary process. As with most everything, metal casting is not without its own taste of irony. The metal casting process necessitates that the artist recreate the original piece of art multiple times while striving for the final product. The first step is building a model of the intended sculpture, commonly made out of clay. Once the model is detailed and finished then an imprint is made in a rubber mold. The imprint in the rubber mold is then filled with wax. With a final wax copy the original clay model is left to be discarded. Pat explained how once the wax copy is “chased ... detailed to the original design,” then it has to be fixed with a plumbing system that allows for ventilation and even distribution of the molten metal. When the wax model is finished Pat explained further that, “the waxes are then invested, which means they are dipped in a slurry of silica sand and binder, then stuccoed with more silica sand and allowed to dry.” The dipping and drying process is repeated until there is a ¼” to ⅜” shell surrounding the wax. The ceramic shell is then put in a kiln allowing the wax to melt out, leaving a mold that is a ready cavity for whichever liquefied metal the artist has chosen to use for their particular piece of art. Pat primarily works with bronze, but some projects call for the use of aluminum and/or iron as well. When the metal has solidified and cooled enough to handle, the ceramic shell is broken off so the metal sculpture remains. The plumbing system must be cut off and any remnants of the ceramic shell are sandblasted off.

Within each step there are many factors that complicate the sculpture making process. If the sculpture is too large then it has to be broken into more manageable pieces. The modeling, molding, waxing, chasing, plumbing, investing, casting, cutting, polishing, and finishing process is repeated over and over depending on how many parts the sculpture needed to be divided into. Once the final pieces are finished they still need to be welded together. The sculpture is detailed, polished, and painted if necessary. When the artist is finally satisfied the piece still needs to be mounted to a base. The entire process may seem exhausting, but with patience and commitment there is a satisfying end with a piece of art that has been built to last.


Pat took his first class in metal casting in 1997. In 2000 he bought property in Palmer, Alaska and began working on building his own foundry/art studio and in 2007 was able to settle into his life as a full-time artist. With equipment he built, bought, and put together himself, Pat has made his studio impressively functional. The pouring process (usually a two person job) is a task he can do by himself. The crucible (the container where the metal is heated and poured from) is usually lifted out of the furnace with tongs and then transferred to a shank which is used for pouring. Pat created a device that combines the use of both. His ingenious device is attached to a crane and an electronic hoist so that the crucible can be lifted and lowered with the press of a button. Welded to the crucible carrier are handlebars (acquired from an old bicycle) he uses to maneuver the contraption and pour the metal into the awaiting molds. 

A small group of us watched as hours and days worth of work were brought to a head. Pat demonstrated with ease the casting of half a dozen bronze pieces. Although we were of course in no danger, there is something about being in close proximity to molten metal, heated to temperatures of over 2100 degrees, that brings on a surge of adrenaline. In a matter of only a few minutes he was finished, but we still stood transfixed as the metal visible at the top of the sprues (openings where the metal is poured in) was still glowing a vivid yellow-orange. Although the casting is the climax of the sculpture making process, there is still more hours of work to follow. All residue from the ceramic shell must be sandblasted away, edges smoothed, sprues and vents cut away, and plenty of painstakingly fine detail work to create a finished piece.


Although casting solo is an option Pat takes advantage of regularly, he has also chosen to share his studio, his talents, and his love for art with fellow artists around the state. Pat opens his studio for seminars and classes, joining forces with organizations such as the Valley Arts Alliance and Matanuska-Susitna College. He also hosts the local Alaska Blacksmith Association meetings. Pat even brings his metal casting skills outside of his studio, when he tours the state each year at Art on Fire events in Fairbanks, Kenai, and Wasilla, helping with iron pour demonstrations for the communities.

Patrick Garley’s art can be seen all across Alaska. In Seward, there is a life size bronze statue of a man walking with his dog entitled, “Trailblazers.” The piece, which took over a year and a half to make, was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Iditarod Trail. In front of the Kodiak Swimming Pool, a trio of bronze “whimsical young animals” are perched on three stainless steel benches built in the likeness of diving boards. At the Palmer Visitor’s Center a giant cabbage is centered among a collection of other large vegetables set as a lasting reminder of the agricultural roots and fertile farmland that distinguishes the Matanuska Valley. 

Inspiration comes through many avenues. Pat Garley’s roots in the construction industry and that pivotal casting class taken in New Mexico combined to create a successful business. The Valley has proven to be a fertile place for more than agriculture, as self-made artists like Pat Garley and others prove year after year with their works of art that enrich our lives.


For more information on Arctic Fires Bronze Sculptureworks, visit their website

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Art on Fire

Arts & Culture

Author

Anne Sanders

Anne Sanders was born and raised in Alaska. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Alaska Anchorage. With a love for the written word, she recognizes the treasure of stories and fascinating people Alaska offers. Paired with her husband Cecil who compliments her narratives with his eye for the visual, Anne is on a mission to bring her beloved home of Alaska to life on the pages of Last Frontier Magazine.

For most people, an elementary school classroom was the last place they created a piece of art. For others, artistry appropriates a major portion of their lives. For Patrick (Pat) Garley, owner of Arctic Fires Bronze Sculptureworks, located in Palmer, Alaska, the desire to create and build was honed while working in the construction industry. A casting course in New Mexico awoke a love for the medium of metal casting and sculpting, and instilled in Pat the determination to make the creation of metal art his full-time occupation.

Entering Pat’s foundry was a step into completely unfamiliar territory. It was an introduction to an art medium with its own lexicon, processes, and instruments of age-old origins. Casting is a form of metal work that has been around for thousands of years, and even with modern conveniences, the basic principles have remained the same. Metal is liquefied in a furnace and poured into a mold. Once the metal solidifies the mold is removed and the metal cast remains. The procedure may initially seem rather basic, but the actual casting of the metal is only one step in a long, time and energy consuming process.

Pat describes the formation of a metal sculpture via metal casting as a sort of evolutionary process. As with most everything, metal casting is not without its own taste of irony. The metal casting process necessitates that the artist recreate the original piece of art multiple times while striving for the final product. The first step is building a model of the intended sculpture, commonly made out of clay. Once the model is detailed and finished then an imprint is made in a rubber mold. The imprint in the rubber mold is then filled with wax. With a final wax copy the original clay model is left to be discarded. Pat explained how once the wax copy is “chased ... detailed to the original design,” then it has to be fixed with a plumbing system that allows for ventilation and even distribution of the molten metal. When the wax model is finished Pat explained further that, “the waxes are then invested, which means they are dipped in a slurry of silica sand and binder, then stuccoed with more silica sand and allowed to dry.” The dipping and drying process is repeated until there is a ¼” to ⅜” shell surrounding the wax. The ceramic shell is then put in a kiln allowing the wax to melt out, leaving a mold that is a ready cavity for whichever liquefied metal the artist has chosen to use for their particular piece of art. Pat primarily works with bronze, but some projects call for the use of aluminum and/or iron as well. When the metal has solidified and cooled enough to handle, the ceramic shell is broken off so the metal sculpture remains. The plumbing system must be cut off and any remnants of the ceramic shell are sandblasted off.

Within each step there are many factors that complicate the sculpture making process. If the sculpture is too large then it has to be broken into more manageable pieces. The modeling, molding, waxing, chasing, plumbing, investing, casting, cutting, polishing, and finishing process is repeated over and over depending on how many parts the sculpture needed to be divided into. Once the final pieces are finished they still need to be welded together. The sculpture is detailed, polished, and painted if necessary. When the artist is finally satisfied the piece still needs to be mounted to a base. The entire process may seem exhausting, but with patience and commitment there is a satisfying end with a piece of art that has been built to last.


Pat took his first class in metal casting in 1997. In 2000 he bought property in Palmer, Alaska and began working on building his own foundry/art studio and in 2007 was able to settle into his life as a full-time artist. With equipment he built, bought, and put together himself, Pat has made his studio impressively functional. The pouring process (usually a two person job) is a task he can do by himself. The crucible (the container where the metal is heated and poured from) is usually lifted out of the furnace with tongs and then transferred to a shank which is used for pouring. Pat created a device that combines the use of both. His ingenious device is attached to a crane and an electronic hoist so that the crucible can be lifted and lowered with the press of a button. Welded to the crucible carrier are handlebars (acquired from an old bicycle) he uses to maneuver the contraption and pour the metal into the awaiting molds. 

A small group of us watched as hours and days worth of work were brought to a head. Pat demonstrated with ease the casting of half a dozen bronze pieces. Although we were of course in no danger, there is something about being in close proximity to molten metal, heated to temperatures of over 2100 degrees, that brings on a surge of adrenaline. In a matter of only a few minutes he was finished, but we still stood transfixed as the metal visible at the top of the sprues (openings where the metal is poured in) was still glowing a vivid yellow-orange. Although the casting is the climax of the sculpture making process, there is still more hours of work to follow. All residue from the ceramic shell must be sandblasted away, edges smoothed, sprues and vents cut away, and plenty of painstakingly fine detail work to create a finished piece.


Although casting solo is an option Pat takes advantage of regularly, he has also chosen to share his studio, his talents, and his love for art with fellow artists around the state. Pat opens his studio for seminars and classes, joining forces with organizations such as the Valley Arts Alliance and Matanuska-Susitna College. He also hosts the local Alaska Blacksmith Association meetings. Pat even brings his metal casting skills outside of his studio, when he tours the state each year at Art on Fire events in Fairbanks, Kenai, and Wasilla, helping with iron pour demonstrations for the communities.

Patrick Garley’s art can be seen all across Alaska. In Seward, there is a life size bronze statue of a man walking with his dog entitled, “Trailblazers.” The piece, which took over a year and a half to make, was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Iditarod Trail. In front of the Kodiak Swimming Pool, a trio of bronze “whimsical young animals” are perched on three stainless steel benches built in the likeness of diving boards. At the Palmer Visitor’s Center a giant cabbage is centered among a collection of other large vegetables set as a lasting reminder of the agricultural roots and fertile farmland that distinguishes the Matanuska Valley. 

Inspiration comes through many avenues. Pat Garley’s roots in the construction industry and that pivotal casting class taken in New Mexico combined to create a successful business. The Valley has proven to be a fertile place for more than agriculture, as self-made artists like Pat Garley and others prove year after year with their works of art that enrich our lives.


For more information on Arctic Fires Bronze Sculptureworks, visit their website

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Author

Anne Sanders

Author & Media

Anne Sanders

Media Contributor

Robert Eric Summerfield

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