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How cenotaph’s soldier became a new man

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has spent the past 20 years creating artwork all around the world, from his studios in Mexico City and Thailand, to unveiling sculptures and statues up to 25-feet tall throughout North America and Europe.

Compared to his globe-trotting exploits, however, his latest creation may seem a little tame. Schmalz is the sculptor behind the new soldier mounted on the Elmira cenotaph at the corner of Arthur Street and Memorial Avenue. He says that it was an honour to help Elmira maintain a part of its heritage.

“I won’t lie, it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience, which a sculptor always wants,” Schmalz explained, sitting in his St. Jacobs studio. “But you get an amazing experience being able to help your community. I feel good because it’s my home town and I feel as a sculptor it is good to serve your community.”

Schmalz, who was raised on Second Street near Elmira District Secondary School, can remember walking past the old marble sculpture every day on his way to school. He says it is nice to be able to give back to the community by replacing the aged marble statue, originally installed in 1923, with a much sturdier bronze replica that should last up to 500 years.

The original statue was a generic design that was mass-produced throughout the 1920s in Italy, Schmalz says, and the statues were sent to countless towns throughout Ontario for war memorials.

BETTER THAN NEW Elmira-native Timothy Schmalz is the sculptor behind the new soldier proudly perched atop the Elmira cenotaph as of last week.

“The only problem was, in the 1920s they didn’t realize that the marble did not last for very long in this climate,” he said, comparing the degradation of the statue to a melting ice cream cone or snowman.

The salt used to keep our roads clear of ice, as well as dramatic shifts in seasonal temperatures and the increase in acid rain over the past 90 years has taken its toll on the statue. Much of the original detail, including the soldiers face, had worn off.

“Almost every small town had one, and it’s a shame to think of all the marble statues that are melting away in our environment.”

About eight months ago, the town approached Schmalz – who has been making bronze sculptures for about 15 years – to make a new statue in time for Remembrance Day. The granite base, along with the granite additions used to commemorate the Second World War and the Korean War, are still in good shape thanks to the stronger building material. It was just the soldier that needed the repairs.

“The need for it was obvious, the original statue was crumbling,” explained Larry Devitt, Woolwich’s director of recreation and facilities. “There were two different breaks on it, and it needed replacement.”

Using a series of photographs and measurements, Schmalz made a wax mold of the 6’5” statue at his studio in St. Jacobs. He then shipped the mold to Thailand, where he encased  it in a larger concrete mold, melted and drained the wax, and filled the empty space with molten bronze to create the statue.

Schmalz is hesitant about doing so much work overseas – he would like to keep the jobs in North America – but the reason he does all of his bronze work in Thailand is because of their superior metal, superior craftsmanship, and because Canadian and American foundries are simply not equipped to fill his orders, he says.

The statue of the soldier is hollow, with only a few pieces of stainless steel inside to support its 225 kilogram (500 pound) frame. Schmalz says the bronze is only about three or four millimetres thick – the same thickness as the Statue of Liberty.

“It’s almost like a chocolate Easter bunny,” he adds.

One challenge is pouring the molten bronze into the mold and ensuring the metal doesn’t harden too early.

“You can’t pour six feet of molten bronze from the head to the toes. The fear is that half-way down, the bronze will harden and you’ll ruin your mold.”

To get around that problem, before the bronze was poured the mold was cut in half. That way, the two sections could be poured separately. The bronze pieces were then removed from the molds, and the two sections were welded back together to form the completed statue.

Schmalz says the process was relatively easy with this statue because he used the belt on the soldier to hide any welding lines. Prior to the invention of welding tools, Schmalz says, sculptors would dovetail the pieces, and then hammer them together to create a seamless fit.

He also says that the ancient Romans preferred to make sculptures out of bronze rather than marble, but only the marble ones remain because the bronze ones were later melted down to make weapons.
“But hopefully no one will melt down the soldier,” he adds with a laugh.

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