TODAY'S PAPER
74° Good Afternoon
74° Good Afternoon
Business

CITY & CO. / A Bronze Age in Brooklyn / Art foundry's monumental casts, characters

PRESIDENT Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral cortege departed,

on its way to the final resting place, from a cluttered industrial yard on

India Street in Greenpoint.

Steve Makky kept a careful eye on its departure: He had, after all, helped

create it and prepare it for the road.

"It was 30 feet long and 6 feet high," he recalls. "We cast it in sections and

welded them together here. It left here in one piece on a flatbed truck."

The cortege, now installed in Washington's Roosevelt Memorial, was a monumental

sculpture created by Leonard Baskin and cast in bronze by Bedi-Makky Art

Foundry.

It is an old business, and Makky is the most recent of at least four owners. It

once was the Kunst foundry, on East 79th Street in Manhattan. When Kunst died,

two Hungarian foundrymen named Bedi and Rassy bought the business, renamed it

Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry and moved it to Greenpoint sometime in the 1940s.

Makki, who lives in Flushing, joined the business in 1960, five years after he

escaped from Hungary at the age of 18. "Later I bought out Mr. Rassy," he says.

"Then I bought out Mr. Bedi."

He is a stocky man with the work-hardened hands and strong grip you would

expect on a man whose business is founded upon bronze ingots that weigh 20 to

24 pounds each, someone accustomed to tipping 600 pounds of molten metal into

molds.

But Makky is also an appreciative partner in art, part of a process that takes

an idea and turns it into enduring bronze.

He learned his trade in Hungary and worked for several regular foundries here.

None produced art. "I wanted to quit foundry work," he says with a grimace.

"But when I found this..." He gazes around his domain and smiles. "...this is

more enjoyable than any other job. The money isn't what it really should be,

but you make up for that with the satisfaction."

Bedi-Makky occupies three contiguous 25-by-100-foot lots on India Street. The

site is a rabbit warren of rooms, alleys, yards and, on the eastern one-third,

an intact, old four-family house.

It is a strange place, a factory whose nooks and shelves hold statues of

patriots, baboons, nymphs, rams, angels and dusty gods and goddesses.

Some are monumental in scale, others are minute. Size is not a measure of

artistic or historic value: The shop holds tiny gems such as the maquette-the

original small model made by sculptor Paul Manship -for the Prometheus that

hovers over the Rockefeller Center rink.

One room in the house is Makky's office; the others hold a hodgepodge of

statues and castings. Several of these appear to be of museum quality, but

Makky is quick to disabuse a visitor: They have flaws, though it takes a

trained eye to see them.

The office walls are liberally papered with photographs and news clippings

featuring the foundry's output. Some are immediately identifiable: the huge Iwo

Jima memorial in Arlington, Va.; elegantly balanced figures by Chaim Gross; a

Baskin sculpture of Isaac and the Lamb that's in the Vatican. "I have a few

pieces in the Vatican," Makky says meditatively.

Other works are more obscure: a statue of Alton Ochsner M.D.; a relief bust of

Jerome Patrick Cavanagh, mayor of Detroit, 1967-70.

High on one wall is a remarkable photograph of two U.S. Marine officers

examining a titanic pair of hands. The bronze fingernails are each the size of

a human hand.

"The Iwo Jima memorial," Makky says. "The helmets are bigger than your bathtub.

I believe the small rifles are 16 feet long; the big ones are 18 feet."

Making a mold for such an enduring and monumental piece is delicate in the

extreme, depending on the moldmaker's skill in creating an image in sand.

"We use the French sand-casting method," Makky says. "It's so called because

all of the sand used to come from France. But World War II created some

delivery problems."

Makky has to make his own French sand these days, blending sand and clay of

different textures from upstate New York, southern New Jersey and California to

create the necessary texture.

The sand has to be fine enough to hold an impression, yet porous enough to

allow air to escape when molten bronze is poured into the mold.

On a recent morning, Makky and a helper carefully lifted the top half off a

sand mold, revealing a relief-negative in the top section, positive in the

bottom-of a reclining nude. All that separated one from the other was a thin

dusting of a white chemical powder- formerly powder from ground-up bones was

used.

Makky took a palette knife and an air hose and carefully carved away part of

the positive image, leaving a rough outline but creating a space into which the

bronze would flow. The sand crumbled under the blade and the breath from the

air hose carried it away.

After a time drying in a kiln, the nude would be cast as a bronze plaque, one

of perhaps 15 works of art poured as part of the week's work.

When the molds are broken up, the sand is dried, sent through a sifter and

dumped in a bin.

While Makky worked on the mold in a big front room, his son, Bill, worked in a

small back room to create a mold for a sculpted squirrel-sized bulldog.

Bill Makky, 32, of Whitestone, was making a lost-wax mold, in which a layer of

wax is melted out of a plaster mold, leaving a hollow shell into which bronze

is poured.

It is a delicate and demanding process. "It's a full nine- or 10-hour day just

to make the mold," he says. "Then it goes in the kiln for four days. Then

another day to set up the mold for pouring. Then another four days or so just

to do the finishing work."

This mold will cost the sculptor about $500; casting is charged by the square

foot. The business grosses about $700,000 a year.

Bedi-Makky is strictly an art foundry; all of its work comes from about 150

artists who use its services. None of the artists is into mass production, and

the molds are used only a few times to make a few copies.

"Each artist has a favorite number," the elder Makky says. "Mostly it's six

copies, but sometimes it goes to nine or 12. And then they'll make one, two or

three artists' proofs, which aren't numbered."

Almost all of the other pieces are numbered and most are stamped to identify

Bedy-Makky as the founder.

Casting is done in a back room fitted with an oil-fired, forced-draught

furnace. The raw material is usually monumental bronze: 88 percent copper, 2.5

percent lead, 2.3 percent tin, the rest zinc. They use about 40 tons of this a

year. On average, 12 to 15 pounds of bronze make a square foot of sculpture.

Bedi-Makky castings have been the objects of terrorism: A 12-foot-tall statue

of President Harry S Truman has been blasted off its pedestal in Greece

(without ill effect to the statue itself) several times.

It wasn't anti-Americanism that motivated the bombers. "It's artistic

jealousy," Makky says. "They think they're the best at making sculpture, and

they're saying, 'How come this was made in the United States?'"

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More news