The Sculptural Processes Group is an informal study group that was set up in October 2007 to facilitate exchanges between researchers, curators, conservators and practitioners interested in questions of sculptural practice. The Group explores, through seminars and visits, various aspects of the creative, material and mechanical processes involved in making sculpture from Antiquity to the present day.
The aims of the SPG are to enable individual members to gain a more precise and nuanced understanding of the practical processes of sculpture – both through close examination of works and through discussion with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. The core group comprises a small number of academics, PhD students, curators and conservators with diverse interests from the Courtauld and other universities and museums. The Group hosts two meetings per term, one informal discussion at the Research Forum and one on-site visit to a museum, gallery or workshop, in which we aim to offer close, hands-on analysis of sculptural objects.
Since 2007 the Sculptural Processes Group has hosted a wide variety of events in and around London. These include: visits to a bronze foundry, to Wilton House with Peter Stewart (Classics Department, Oxford), to the sculpture conservation department of Westminster Abbey and to various collections and exhibitions in London. The SPG has also organised seminars, including one on stone carving by Peter Rockwell (independent), one on imaging bronze sculpture by Frits Scholten and Robert van Langhe (Rijksmuseum), one on the technical investigation of bronzes using X-Ray Fluorescence, given jointly by Shelley Sturman and Dylan Smith (National Gallery Washington), and an international conference, ‘The World Turned Inside Out: Bronze Casting in the 20th Century’.
In 2016 the group focused on ‘Reproduction?’ The theme was explored both as a process of sculptural production and as a means of transforming sculptural objects. Visits by the group included a day visit to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, where we were given a tour of the archives and heard a paper by Rebecca Wade on the plaster casts produced by the firm of Brucciani & Co. We also visited the Tomasso Brothers to see a selection of sculpture in their gallery’s extravagant Victorian country house premises. A seminar in March considered the role, status and function of plaster, with papers given by Alexandra Gerstein on Rodin and Eckart Marchand on Flaxman, and responses by Greg Sullivan on Victorian sculpture, Tom Nickson and Victor Borges on stucco in medieval Spain and a talk by the artist Daisy Addison on the experimental use of plaster in her practice.
Other visits and events included a visit to Digits2Widgits in Camden where Jonathan Rowley showed us round the 3D printing operation, and explained the possibilities as well as limitations of this new technology, and a visit to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which, having been in continuous operation since 1570 sadly announced just before our visit that it was to close its door for good in 2017. A special out-of-hours evening visit to the exhibition Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement was arranged and took the shape of a loosely structured conversation between its curator Alexandra Gerstein and Ann Wagner. Another visit on the theme of ‘Reproduction?’ was to the City and Guilds Historic Carving School in Kennington, led by Tim Crawley and with the participation of the Final Year students. Various pointing machines were in use, as well as a new version that was being trialled and patented by one of the students there.
The focus of 2017 is ‘Finish’. The first seminar of the year was organised around that theme, with a medley of papers from art-historical, conservation and materials-science perspectives. Jessica Barker spoke about the polish and polychromy of medieval tomb sculpture, Emma Richardson gave a paper on the material and the immaterial in West Coast minimalism, and Giovanni Verri’s paper was on Roman sculpture. On 5 May in the Courtauld’s Research Forum, Alison Wilding, RA, will be in conversation with Jo Applin, who is writing a book on the artist. A behind-the-scenes visit is also planned to a stonemasons’ lodge in Norwich in May, and a visit to a sculptor’s studio to discuss processes of fabrication and in particular ‘finish’ is planned for later in the year.
The group is convened by: Dr Alexandra Gerstein, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Courtauld Gallery; Dr Jessica Barker, Lecturer in Art History, University of East Anglia; Dr Jo Applin who teaches at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialises in modern and contemporary art; Cathy Corbett, PhD candidate, Courtauld Institute of Art.