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James Garthe (2)

"Nurturing Hands" By James W. Garthe My mother used to describe herself as “Just a sentimental ole fool,” and that describes me too. Her tender feelings often expressed many decades ago have mysteriously surfaced in the way I fashion sculptures combining science, art and sentimentality. The concept of blending sculpture themes got its start several years back when our family ushered in our first grandchild. It occurred to me that a single gift to a newborn child could express my immediate desire to embrace and welcome this wondrous being into our world, while also acting as a meaningful keepsake throughout his or her adult life. Nurturing Hands was developed with posterity in mind. There are two parts to this piece; the highly polished rock sphere, and the uplifting hands. I’ll describe the emotional significance of their union soon, but first allow me to describe how each was made. Making the Sphere The sphere is made of a tough silicate rock, called metarhyolite, which is 565,000,000 years old. It was found near Mont Alto, Pennsylvania. I scoured the banks of a small stream looking for that perfect piece, which I felt had to exhibit a deep burgundy color, yet for visual clarity had to be solid and free of cracks. The heavy rock I selected and hefted into my pack was football-sized. Once home, I cut the rock down to size using a diamond saw. Subsequently, various diamond wheels and grit-covered cast iron cups spinning on my homemade sphere making machine were used to form the rough shape into a perfect sphere. Final polishing was done with optical grade cerium oxide – the same powder used to polish eyeglass lenses. Making the Cast Hands The hands were cast in Accu-Cast 570-PGV alginate. My wife commandeered the stirrer, and after some rehearsal I shoved both hands in. After the cure period, my hands came out and molten candle wax went in. Once the solidified wax was freed from the alginate, a wax base was added for stability. I’m an amateur aluminum sand caster and I’ve long wanted to practice lost wax casting. However, given the extensive list of supplies needed for this sort of casting process, I opted to take the wax impression to a foundry here in Pennsylvania. At the foundry, vents, a pouring cup, and external supports were added before dipping the assembly in a ceramic slurry. After allowing the slurry to air dry between dip sessions, the entire piece was placed in a kiln to burn off the wax and cure the coating into a hard ceramic shell capable of withstanding the extreme heat of the molten stainless steel alloy used. A month later I had the piece at home. Adding finishing touches to the rough casting took about 12 hours. Excess metal was cut off while numerous grinders, rotary burrs, rifflers and emery cloth were used to refine and shape. For a shadowed and textured appearance, the entire piece was spray painted then wiped to leave black paint in the crevices. The title and other personal sentiment were stamped into an aluminum tag on its underside, while a slab of black polyethylene was glued to the base to make a scratch resistant surface. The Emotional Connection The sphere was polished to the exact circumference of our first grandson’s head measured at birth. Due to eons of weathering in nature, a nickel-sized porous area lacked the luster evident on the rest of the orb. Rather than starting over, I rationalized the less durable region fortuitously represented the soft spot of our dear infant’s head. As a side note, I’ve noticed that when people see the sparkle of a highly polished rock sphere, their tendency is to grasp it to enjoy its heavy mass and glassy-smooth surface. As they gyrate the sphere in their hands, an otherwise static sculpture becomes interactive, or alive in a sense, especially as it’s known to depict a child’s head. Regarding the uplifting hands, I tried to portray a sense of security my strong hands would provide for the newborn. Rather than tightly clasping the head, the extended fingers suggest a cradle of life that affords movement and freedom as the child evolves from its formative years into adulthood. Parting Comment Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you also for a wonderful casting product…I’m discovering its utility is boundless! James W. Garthe 4774 Eberle Road Petersburg, PA 16669 (814) 667-2409 jwg10@psu.edu

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