The contributions of an art foundry to an artist’s work are invisible to gallery- and museumgoers. But that’s just as it should be, says Vincent DiDonato, who along with business partner Andrew Pharmer launched Workshop Art Fabrication, LLC in Kingston three years ago. “Our job is to be unseen. When people go to a museum or gallery, they want to see the artist’s name on the wall, but it’s not our place to shine. We’re there to serve the artist.”
The image of the artist as a solitary figure working alone in the studio doesn’t apply when it comes to the casting of metal sculpture, which goes through numerous production stages and needs the skill of many uncredited foundry workers, who transform an artist’s concept into sculptural works while remaining true to the artist’s intentions.
Workshop Art Fabrication, LLC offers the full range of fine-art fabrication and foundry services for artists, including metal casting and fabrication, mold- and patternmaking, project development and management, patina and paint applications and conservation and restoration.
While the business only opened its doors in January of 2015, Pharmer and DiDonato are not newcomers to the industry. Both were employed by industry icon Polich Tallix foundry for 17 years prior, working their way up to management positions before deciding to go out on their own. “We both started out on the floor doing metalwork: welding, assembly… just about everything that we could,” says DiDonato. “We worked our way up through the ranks at Tallix, and then decided to work for ourselves. We wanted to set up a smaller, more intimate ‘boutique-style’ shop servicing a select clientele, working with people we want to work with, and not having to supervise a large staff.”
By way of comparison, Tallix had some 80 employees at the time they left and the staff at Workshop Art Fabrication currently numbers 17. “It’s more fun now, and we’re able to focus more on the work. And we’re more in tune with the work this way – more hands-on, and on the floor all the time.”
The partners both studied art in college, DiDonato in the Sculpture Program at SUNY-New Paltz and Pharmer with an Art degree from SUNY-Purchase. “We were both interested in the arts, and then got hooked on foundry life and made a career of it,” says DiDonato. “I never really set out to have a career in the arts, but it kind of grew on me.”
Foundry work makes up the bulk of their projects, but in positioning themselves as a fabrication shop, the partners hope not to pigeonhole themselves. They keep a very low profile, notes DiDonato, getting most of their work through word-of-mouth.
One of the larger projects they’re working on at present is an LGBT memorial of cast bronze with a glass inlay that acts as a prism and can emit a subtle rainbow. The work by artist Anthony Goicolea is the first official monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people commissioned by the State of New York. It will be installed in Hudson River Park, near the waterfront piers that have served as a meeting place and refuge for LGBT people. Another major work-in-progress will be installed in the rooftop sculpture garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in March: a cast-bronze figurative work by Poughkeepsie-based Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha.
“Every day is a new challenge,” DiDonato says. “That’s what we enjoy about it. We get to work with new artists; and even with the same artists that we keep as clients, they always have new work that we’re making. So it’s not like making widgets.”
Keeping pace with advances in technology is one of the challenges of the work. “Three-D printing and the way that technology is implemented into the work is always changing,” says DiDonato. Twenty years ago, 3-D was just showing up, he adds, in CAD files and subtractive technology such as carving machines; but now, additive technology like 3-D printing is “a really big game-changer.” Artists can bypass the mold process to create a wax positive, printing directly in wax using 3-D technology. But it does have its limitations: better for one-offs than high-edition work, in which it’s more cost-effective to use rubber molds. And if an artist is attempting a subtlety like skin texture, the rubber mold will capture that better than 3-D printing.
The work isn’t always easy, notes DiDonato, so it helps to be stubborn and focused. “Sometimes it’s just sticking to the plan and plodding along. But when the client is happy, we’re happy. That’s how we’re successful: delivering what people ask for; helping them realize their project and making it accessible.”
Workshop Art Fabrication, 117 Tremper Avenue, Kingston; (845) 331-0385, http://workartfab.com.