A massive, years-long effort to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal is nearing completion with a dramatic work of art to honor the workers. The final six bronze sculptures of the Lock Tenders on the Erie Canal are nearly finished at a foundry in Loveland, Colorado. Artist Susan Geissler recently traveled to Colorado to do some touch ups on the artwork — now in the wax stage. She reports things look very good at this point. She spent days closely examining the artwork that is broken up into pieces in this stage.
Ceramic molds are being built around the wax. The molds will be put in kilns — heated up — and the wax will melt away — leaving a chamber for the molten bronze to be poured in. We followed the process at the Bronze Services of Loveland foundry.
Once poured, and the ceramic mold is broken apart, the artwork will be revealed and welded into full pieces. Artists will then “chase” the weld seams — grind them down to the point you can’t see the seams. Then a patina will be added.
By September, Susan’s husband Pete Henderson will fly to Colorado, and make the long trek back to New York (a drive he has made nearly 50 times on this and other projects) with the finished cargo. The six will be added to 7 sculptures already installed on steps next to the canal locks in Lockport, New York. The old section of canal along what is called “The Flight of Five,” has been refurbished. Lock gates are rebuilt and volunteers are now demonstrating to people how things worked back in the day. The Lockport Locks Heritage District has an excellent explanation of the workings of the Flight of Five — a series of five back-to-back locks. On Saturdays in Summer, volunteers operate the rebuilt lock gates on the old stretch of the canal so the public can learn about our past. Hundreds of thousands in donations made the repairs to the historic canal possible.
But the crown jewell will be the life size sculptures of real people — workers on the canal who ran the gates to move boat traffic through the locks. They were captured in a fascinating photograph in the 1890’s, that is being recreated on the steps next to the old canal. Descendants of some of these people still live in Lockport, which is just northeast of Buffalo. The Erie Canal connected the Hudson River with Lake Erie, and opened up trade from the east coast to the midwest starting in 1825. It was a turning point in American History, linking the ports on the coast with the heartland of America just as the industrial revolution was getting started. As we approach this critical 200th anniversary, the Lock Tenders artwork will tell the powerful story of the American Worker and the remarkable engineering feat that created the Erie Canal.