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Larry Kirkland's Disabled American Veterans for Life Memorial Sculptures

  • Published: 2012-04-12 (Revised/Updated 2012-04-15) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: Larry Kirkland is one of todays most sought after sculptors he has a special attachment to The Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial.

Main Document

Larry Kirkland is one of the most prolific and sought-after sculptors working today. He has a special attachment to The Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial.

Larry Kirkland, a sculptor from the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington State, is working with a team of artisans to shape four large bronze silhouette sculptures that are at the heart of The Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, even as the memorial is preparing for on-site construction. Larry's work is a meaningful tribute to America's service-members with disabilities.

Larry and his team of artisans are meticulously crafting these iconic sculptures through a process known as, 'lost wax casting,' a form of art that has been used for thousands of years. The process involves a series of steps that range from model-making to mold-making, as well as a number of techniques for the application of bronze to include pouring it into the wax or brushing it.

Lost Wax Casting

The origins of the lost wax process itself are lost to antiquity, although it is known that the process has been used for thousands of years to create objects in metal which could otherwise not be produced in any other way because of the complexity of their form. The process allows anything that can be modeled in wax to be transmuted into metal form and is still used today to create some industrial parts, fine jewelry, and sculptures.

Larry, discussing his artworkOriginally, wax patterns were modeled by hand; something that can still be done. Now it is possible to cast wax into molds too, meaning that multiple copies of something can be made even if the wax pattern is lost during the process. Modern synthetic rubbers have been developed that capture even very fine details and have the ability to flex and release undercut areas of a model - something that greatly reduces the number of mold parts and the number of parting lines needed. Waxes may be cast as either solid or hollow because the wax will coat the inside of a mold after it has been filled and then poured out. The process is then repeated in order to build up the artisan's desired thickness of wax.

After the wax model has been made and then touched-up, it is attached to a, 'pour-cup,' which is a funnel-shaped item that channels metal into the mold from the outside using, 'sprues,' or, 'gates,' made from rods of wax. A venting system is made in the same way to convey air and additional gases out of the mold when it is filled with hot metal. After the mold is set up with gates and vents, it is surrounded with a material that covers it smoothly when wet, and is able to withstand high temperatures when baked.

Larry says that after all of his wax molds are completed, he will cast them in bronze, apply a patina coat, and then seal them. The four sculptures Larry and his team of artisans are creating compare and contrast ideals and realities of the journey taken by all veterans with disabilities. Working together with both images and text embedded in 48 glass panels, the silhouettes help to interpret the feelings and challenges of the veteran with disabilities:

Larry Kirkland is one of the most prolific and sought-after sculptors working today. He has a special attachment to The Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial - while he was a child, he moved with his military family throughout America, as well as abroad. Larry's artwork can be found in many different municipal and institutional buildings, research facilities, transit hubs, universities, libraries, urban parks, plazas, and even on cruise ships.

Larry's Soldier with a disabilityNoted American art critic Nancy Princenthal stated in her book concerning Larry Kirkland's public artwork, "in his hands, place-making becomes an opportunity to remind us that knowledge can be a sensory experience as well as an intellectual pleasure." Where The Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial is concerned, Larry is very aware of the challenges he faces. Larry says, "It's very exciting, but makes me nervous at the same time. This Memorial is in Washington, D.C., right next to the Capitol. It's got to be as good as it can be. We feel, as a team, that our disabled veteran community is often hidden from daily life. We want to make sure their issues are illuminated. Our memorial is not abstract; we have selected some specific content that will differentiate us."

Progress Made on the Memorial

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial site is indeed in a prominent location; it is adjacent to the Rayburn House Office Building, in full view of the United States Capitol. The Memorial does; however, present some extraordinary and complex construction issues as well. It is situated directly above the I-395 tunnels, with shallow depth for below-grade structural support systems and the mechanical equipment serving the Memorial itself.

January of 2012 found construction beginning on the underground duct bank for communications facilities for the House office buildings. The project is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and is expected to be completed by June of 2012. Another phase of construction is involved with the Memorial.

Phase II infrastructure construction involves the closure and realignment of C Street. It also involves elimination of the redundant entrance ramp to I-395, modifications to 2nd Street and Washington Avenue, curbing, traffic signaling, street lighting, as well as modifications to both sanitation and water lines. The engineering and design work for Phase II has been completed, and construction drawings have been submitted for final review and approval.

Removal and relocation of Federal government utility data and power transmission lines is also required in order for the Memorial site to be ready, and construction to commence. In an effort to reduce the time needed for construction, off-site fabrication of granite wall panels and pavers, Larry's four bronze sculptures, 48 glass panels, as well as the ceremonial flame equipment, all started in 2011 and should be finished in late 2012.

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