Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mrs. Wright’s lifelike wax

Patience WrightModeling wax likenesses, like watercolor painting and embroidery, was considered an acceptable form of artistic accomplishment for women in the Enlightenment. Patience Wright, however, brought what can only be called notoriety to her chosen art form. The notorious Mrs. Wright, a widow with three children to support and a talent for making money from her talents, was famously called “the queen of sluts” by Abigail Adams. Whether this was a response to a personal remark made by the artist, or a general observation about Mrs. Wrights’ character, is not recorded. Patience Wright did, however, do a brisk business at her London wax works studio—an exhibit which predated Madame Tussaud’s by a good thirty years.

Patience Wright was originally from Philadelphia, and exhibited her wax figures widely in the colonies before a fire destroyed her work while on display in New York. Benjamin Franklin encouraged her to come to London, where he introduced her to members of London society, whom Mrs. Wright had, it seems, no trouble cultivating.

A 1772 article in the Virginia Gazette describes Mrs. Wright’s working methods: “…this peculiar excellence of forming men and women in wax was reserved by the goddess of nature for the superiour [sic] genius of America; and when we consider to what an amazing perfection she has brought this art, it rather perplexes our understanding to see compositions so immediately like ourselves. I mixed with a variety of fashionable people, who frequent this repository of curiosities, and I could not help smiling to hear and see her at work; for while the head lies upon her knee it hath so strongly a human appearance, that, at the first sight, it looks like a fresh head severed from the body. But the manner of her working up the features is wonderful; she always covers the wax with a cloth, and while the wax is warm and soft, and equal to any impression, she raises or depresses it at pleasure, and some of the strongest likenesses she hath done from memory only…”

Pictured: Patience Wright working on a wax figure, circa 1775. From

Heron’s Dream

From the sideHeron's Dream

Heron’s Dream

Calvin at the DedicationAfter much deliberation and with almost 40 names to choose from, the Acton-Boxboro Cultural Council, sponsor of my latest outdoor sculpture, voted on the name Heron’s Dream.  Acton kindergarten student, Calvin Miller, chose this name “Because the heron stands still while the other animals zip by around him.”
Calvin is shown with State Rep. Jamie Eldridge, receiving his official citation at the opening on June 1. My co-artist, Joyce Audy Zarins, is seated in the front row with her granddaughter.

Nara Park is officially open for the season, and the sculpture is on view in the catch basin at the stone bridge—heron, frog, and all. I’ll post more photos as the summer goes on.

All Dogs

Orange Frisbee DogRonnie Gould‘s raku-fired, stoneware dogs form a (mostly) lifesize pack at Concord’s Lacoste Gallery. Shown is “Orange Frisbee Dog,” joyously leaping to catch his favorite toy.

Through June 21, Main Street, Concord, Mass.



More tools: Lux Redux

Gwen Lux with pantographI went to a demonstration of 3D printers recently, and ended up thinking about this photograph of Gwen Lux in her New York studio sometime in the 1940s. Lux is seen enlarging her sculpture for Rockefeller Center using a pantograph, the assemblage of pipes above her head. While the Juley Archive of the Smithsonian houses this and other photographs of Lux with her sculpture (both maquette and full-scale versions), her pantograph is only visible in this shot. A construction of metal and pipe, rigged on a boom near the studio ceiling, it basically worked just like the child’s toy that many of us used to make copies long before the existence of desktop 3D printers.

The pantograph’s basic design is simple: four bars linked together in a parallelogram shape. By tracing an object or drawing with the pointer end, the pantograph traces a larger or smaller image depending upon how one adjusts the pen (or pencil) and pointer.

Wikipedia says that the device was first created by inventor and steam pioneer James Watt in the 18th century, but other, simpler versions were in use by artists in the Renaissance and probably before. Watt’s version was perfected by Benjamin Cheverton (1796–1876) in 1836. Cheverton’s machine was fitted with a rotating cutting bit to carve reduced versions of well-known sculptures.
Another version is still in use to reduce the size of large relief designs for coins.