July 7 2010 12:00 AM

Former taxidermist now sculpts in bronze




When Roger Smith makes a sculpture, he doesn’t just carve something out of a block. He forms clay molds, carves them and coats them with various layers of wax, rubber, liquid and dust silica, and works away until he is left at last with something detailed and life-like.

The mold is then filled with molten bronze and, after it cools, the sculpture is cleaned, sandblasted and painted.

Smith will show how it’s done in a demonstration noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Lansing Art Gallery.

Smith has loved the wilderness all his life. When he closed his business three years ago, he was finally able to live his dream of being a full-time artist.

Smith is uniquely qualified to make detailed sculptures of wildlife, having been a taxidermist many years ago.

“When I did taxidermy I took it a step further than most; I made my own mannequins,” Smith said. “Most buy mannequins from a supply company, but I was doing the original clay models for the supply companies. I was sculpting animals from the bones out back then, and I got a good handle on the techniques and the anatomy of animals, though I haven’t done taxidermy professionally since the ’80s.”

Smith sells many tabletop sculptures to private individuals but also makes lifesized statues. He sold a statue of a deer to the Charlevoix Public Library last year and will be doing a presentation there in a few weeks.

Bronze is a unique medium for capturing wildlife, Smith said.

“I like the permanence of it,” he said. “I like how a clay model looks and how you can preserve that in bronze in a durable medium that you can’t (do) in anything else. Back when I did the taxidermy mannequins, I would do a clay model and it would look really cool, and then I would dip it in the silica and it would still look kind of cool. Then we would make a mold of it and put the skin back on and you’d just have another taxidermy animal. Whereas with the bronze, if I leave a fingerprint in my clay there will be a fingerprint in my bronze, so all that looseness — the sculpted or modeled look — stays there.”

Roger Smith

Noon, Thursday, July 8 Lansing Art Gallery 113 South Washington Square, Lansing (517) 374-6400 lansingartgallery.org