Learn from the Master

In the 28 years he worked at the Johnson Atelier, Rory Mahon helped to cast the work of some of the world’s most important artists. He also operated his own foundry in the 90s and has demonstrated his techniques all over the world.

“My pieces are oriented with reference to the plight of the planet,”  Mr. Mahon told me while the Atelier was still active. “I use stone to represent the planets with a focus on environmental concerns, such as the devastation that could be awaiting our planet. The cast metal represents man’s intervention.”

One of his bronze works looks like a world sliced in half, the hemisphere resting on its curved side, offering a view of its rich lumpy core. Another looks like an eaten-away sphere on a pedestal that on closer examination is made up of tree branches.

“Over the past several years I have enjoyed experimenting with pouring molten metal into and around natural objects such as branches and rocks,” writes Mr. Mahon in an artist statement. “Through this invasive method of bringing a natural object into a union with a ‘man’-ipulated item, I’ve created a visual metaphor for what mankind has done to our planet over the centuries.”

Mr. Mahon is interested in pagan rituals and earth-based religions and went through a phase where he was focused on fertility and pregnancy. One of his bronze vessels is actually a casting of a pregnant female torso.

He creates much of his work using the sandcasting technique. It is different from the lost-wax method, he explains, in that he starts with a simple basic pattern, takes a mold of it, opens the mold, removes the pattern and carves the majority of the image into the sand.

The greensand technique is hundreds of years old, and some of the tools he uses, such as trowels and slicks (like a flattened spoon), are genuine antiques, picked up at flea markets or foundries that have gone out of business. Once the negative shape is carved into the sand, molten metal is poured in and solidifies in 15 to 20 minutes.

Mr. Mahon works on sculpture during the winter months, but during the warmer weather he switches to photography. Nature, fertility, pregnancy, spirituality and goddesses are themes that emerge in his photography as well.

In his summer workshops, he will assist with projects whether  sculptural or functional. Private lessons can be arranged for those who require it.

Cement Casting into Sand: Cement is a great, economical material for large or small sculptures, fountains, and functional objects. This casting method allows artists to create molds by carving or pressing objects into moist mason sand and clay. This is called working in the negative.

Foreign objects can also be introduced into this sand mold, and pigments can be added before the cement is poured. Students should finish 2 to 4 projects depending on the complexity. This process creates art that can be put outside and lasts a very long time. This method can be a very quick way to produce beautiful objects. The artist can go large with this process if proper procedures are followed. Upon class end, this process is one that can easily be further developed at your home studio.

Direct modeling in cement with armatures: Cement is a great, economical material for large or small sculptures, fountains, and functional objects. This method offers artists a way of building larger sculptural pieces that are hollow and relatively light weight. Make and use a simple armature made of steel rebar and lathe mesh. Learn the proper ways of mixing and applying cements and additives.  This technique requires a bit more skill than cement casting, although both can get quite complex with a person who pushes the technology. Many aesthetic options will be discussed to help you create the piece that is right for you. This process is also suitable for outdoor work provided certain rules are followed.

Aluminum casting in green sand:  This technique can go from simple to complex. We will start with the age-old basic skills of creating sand molds in the negative and prepare them to receive molten aluminum. Lots of tricks of the trade will be imparted. This will be a basic ‘Cope and Drag’ technique, with a minimal of ‘Cheeks’ to start off with. This is the best way to start for any artist who is thinking of starting their own backyard foundry. Time will also be devoted to furnace making, TIG welding, and metal finishing. Comparisons to the no-bake process will also be addressed.

Bronze casting with no-bake sand molds: Learn the basics of making these kinds of molds, and see how you can, in time, push the limits to cast anything you want.  Artists all over the world go to fine-art foundries to have their work cast in this way. We will start with simple multi-piece molds from your original artwork. This will be an intermediate class for people who have a grasp on some moldmaking techniques. Comparisons to the green sand process will also be addressed. Materials are a bit more expensive for this class.

For dates, times, costs, and other info, contact Mr. Mahon at rory98@hotmail.com, or visit www.rorymahon.com.

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1 Response to Learn from the Master

  1. Ilene, how fascinating, –this ancient method, the use of antique tools, and that piece upon which Rory is working!

    He’s a very special person, as well as a most memorable sculptor. I’m so glad you picked up on his information about this unusual workshop!

    You do so much good for creativity. Thank you,


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