Loveland Sculptors And Michelangelo Get A Hand From 3D Printing

Nov 10, 2017

For more than 40 years, George Lundeen has been sculpting bronzes in Loveland. But his process goes back about 500 years -- at least.

“It’s no different than what Michelangelo did,” Lundeen said. “And you can see from his models, he started with very small models, went to a little bit larger model that had more detail on it, and finally went into a piece of stone.”

For Lundeen, it typically starts with a sketch and then a model molded out of clay. That’s used to create a cast for a wax model, which is cast again, and the wax melted out. Then it’s ready for a foundry to make the final piece of art.

But now Lundeen -- and a lot of other sculptors -- are going a bit more high-tech.

Six times a year, Troy KonigWilcox holes up in the loft of Lundeen’s Loveland studio going back and forth between a computer and a 3D scanner taking lots and lots of pictures.

KonigWilcox is with Portland, Oregon-based Form 3D Foundry. The 3D printing company specializes in working with artists, using technology initially created for the automotive and aerospace industries.

Initially created for the automotive and aerospace industries, the process is both high-tech and highly accurate.

Form 3D Foundry's Troy KonigWilcox scans a tabletop sculpted by Monument artist Richard Pankratz.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

“Which is very beneficial in the art world because (...) then you get every aspect of what the artist sculpted,” KonigWilcox said. “So, it actually works, I think, better for artwork and organic shapes than it does, to me, for engineering stuff.”

It’s especially helpful when you’re talking about large, life-size sculptures that have a lot of detail. Lundeen said it can also be a time saver.

“We’re finishing a project now that normally would have taken five years and we did it in about a year and a half,” he said.

That project is 16 Stations of the Cross, featuring more than 60 life-sized figures. Lundeen is sculpting it for a retreat in Nebraska. KonigWilcox, who is himself an artist, said 3D printing is just another tool for creating art.

“And that’s what artists have been doing forever is finding new tools,” KonigWilcox said. “Like, if you look in any artist’s tool bag, most of those tools weren’t invented to create artwork.”

Sculptor Richard Pankratz drove two hours to Loveland from his studio in Monument to have Form 3D Foundry scan an intricate tabletop he’d sculpted.

While 3D printing is slightly more expensive than traditional methods, Pankratz said it’s worth it to the people who commission works from him.

“Once a client makes up their mind that they want something, they want it,” he said. “They are less likely to accept that it’s going to be four months down the road, or whatever.”

Hundreds of scans are taken of a sculpted tabletop from every angle. The data will be used to make a mold of the clay sculpture so that it can be replicated.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

When asked if, as an artist, he worries that others might use this technology to copy his works, Pankratz laughed.

“You know, if anybody thinks they can get inside my head and copy what I’m doing -- I say, ‘Go for it; you’ll learn,’” he said. “There have always been forgeries, so not using this technique doesn’t eliminate that.”

And as KonigWilcox points out, a copy will still never be the original.

“You can purchase a Michelangelo’s David online, but that value is not the same value as if you had the marble version of Michelangelo’s David sitting in your front yard,” he said.

"Nudo Virile" is one of six bozettis in the exhibit, "Touched by the Hand of God: Michelangelo's Models."
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

Just a few blocks away at the Loveland Museum’s main gallery, sit six of Michelangelo’s “bozettis” -- small models he used to plan out larger sculptures. They’re part of the exhibit “Touched by the Hands of God: Michelangelo’s Models.”

The bozettis are made from terracotta and are extremely fragile, curator Maureen Corey said. That means if you want to see them, you have to go to Italy.

No, there isn’t a paradox here. The actual bozettis are still in Florence, Italy. The sculptures in Loveland are bronze copies made from scans of the originals and created with 3D printed molds.

Even though it’s not exactly the same thing, there is a trade-off that comes with an exhibit like this, Corey said.

“You would never be able to touch terracotta -- a bozetti,” she said.

But you can touch one of these. The museum has Break the Rules Wednesday, one day a week where patrons are allowed to touch the bozettis. And that’s where 3D printing really helps bridge the gap in the world of art.

“That was really one of the goals -- to create this kind of access,” Corey said. “And that’s what we hope to do as a museum generally, is give people access to these masterworks and to the minds of these master artists in a small, kind of intimate environment that they really don’t get in a larger museum.”

At George Lundeen’s studio, the sculptor is surrounded by works he’s created using both the old and new techniques. But the traditional methods still have a special place in his heart.

Troy KonigWilcox checks a scan while working in Loveland sculptor George Lundeen's studio.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

“3D printing I’m sure is great for a lot of people, especially kids these days -- to look at a screen and be able to imagine something three dimensional,” Lundeen said. “But, in essence, they’re still looking at a two-dimensional screen, so you still can’t touch it. And to me, sculpture is all about touching it, all about taking that piece of clay and bending that piece of clay the way you want to and not just seeing it in three dimensions but being able to feel it in three dimensions.”

Which is why Lundeen joked that he’s been kicked out of more museums than he can remember.

“Because I like to touch the sculpture and sometimes I like to touch the paintings,” he said. “Not too many people can say they’ve touched a Rembrandt but, by-God, I have. I couldn’t help myself.”