Commemorating the Modern Hero - with Bollinger Atelier, Fine Art Foundry and Fabricator
By: Sarah Muehlbauer for CODAworx
For as long as humanity has sought to root their sense of place and community, they have invested in the creative arts as a vehicle for remembrance. Memorials mark relationships with loved ones, leaders, and events that shape our history, sculpting past and future values. Commemorative work freezes moments in time, granting an eternal presence.
As cultures have developed over time to include abstract ideals like freedom and equality, we have seen the role of art in commemoration expand with it. Bollinger Atelier, an Arizona-based Fine Art Foundry, exists at the center of these changes, producing work for venues like The Legacy Museum and the Kennedy Space Center, the AZ Cardinals Stadium, the Smithsonian, National Sanctuary Hall, City of San Francisco, and Disney. With a wide range of technical virtuosity allowing them to take concepts from start-to-finish in-house, and with their dedication to learning and evolving through production, this powerhouse studio has produced work for global names like Lynda Benglis, Roxy Paine, Tom Otterness, Donald Baechler, Kiki Smith, among others. The work they produce showcases the diversity of what commemorative art can be - from personal, to historic, to universal.
What’s in a name? The word “atelier” may at first seem opaque, but this term from the Middle Ages comes with the heft and weight of fine art history. Indicating mastery and apprenticeship, high levels of refinement of process, Atelier artisans are trained and hired from specialized backgrounds to work closely as a team. Ateliers problem-solve and innovate with the kind of discipline where art approaches a science. Combining old tools and new, ancient processes with contemporary techniques, Bollinger works hold the physical and narrative weight of materials like bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel, commonly arrived at through more flexible contemporary processes - from computer rendering, to CNC milling and 3D printing.
Bollinger-fabricated works serve a range of narrative approaches as well, which can be seen in the work of artist Sanford Biggers, made for inclusion in The Legacy Museum. The 11,000-square-foot museum in Montgomery, Alabama, is a former site for housing enslaved people. Tens of thousands were trafficked and auctioned in the surrounding area. The Museum opened in 2018, serving as a research source and an engine for education about the history of racial inequality. In service to its mission to create solutions to contemporary problems, the Museum houses fine artworks alongside historic content, providing texture, complexity, and abstraction to the commemoration of lives lost and trauma endured. This integration of visual art helps viewers metabolize the deep historical wounds this site represents. In Bigger’s work, a twice-life-sized figure, characterized by its flesh quality, its scar marks and holes, walks forward onto a limb that is unfinished or half-destroyed, narratively ambiguous as much as its personal identity is. As the last piece in view upon exiting the Museum, the figurative piece BAM (for Michael) carries a complexity of artfully molded destruction of flesh, and an uprightness and determination to stand and move forward. It is a powerfully executed and viscerally-affective bronze commemorative work.
Photo courtesy of EJI/Human Pictures
Continuing with art that memorializes individuals who fight for greater equality, we see in the sculpture “Stand” a group of women suffragists, as envisioned by artist Barbara Grygutis, fabricated by Bollinger Atelier. At twenty feet tall, these 5 women dominate the scene with strong outlines and intricately textured aluminum patterns. The work is enhanced with lighting in the evening, further emphasizing its qualities of both sculpture and drawing. The women of “Stand” are silhouettes, and like in Sanford Biggers’ piece BAM (for Michael), abstraction allows the sculpture to represent many individuals who’ve fought for their cause, who may never be known publicly, but make up the fabric of the movement.
Dedicated in August of 2020, “Stand” became the first commemorative piece on women’s suffrage that Lexington has. The sculpture was made possible by the Breaking the Bronze Ceiling campaign, which aimed to place a prominent artwork in the city’s downtown area to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. To date, less than 7% of the 5,193 monuments in the United States recognize women. “Stand” represents an important step in publicly honoring women’s contributions to society, while creating a stylized and iconic attraction that represents the city’s ethical heart.
Moving from broad-scale cultural heritage to the local community hero, Bollinger Atelier played a crucial role in producing the bronze sculpture of Pat Tillman installed at Arizona State University in 2017. Tillman was an ASU student athlete who went on to play professional football for the Arizona Cardinals. He’d enlisted as an Army Ranger shortly after the attacks of 9/11, and lost his life in Afghanistan. To his community, he symbolized selfless action, courage, and perseverance. Today, the sculpture serves as a site of community ritual, as the ASU football players touch it for good luck on their way into games.
"Pat Tillman" photo by Charlie Leight/ASU, with permission by Jeff Davenport
Bollinger Atelier stepped in to fabricate the 7 ½ foot tall, 400-pound bronze statue from a clay maquette sculpted by ASU alumni artist Jeff Carol Davenport. The heroic size of the piece is met with an earthiness captured in the texture of Davenport’s clay original and Bollinger’s process of reproduction. Specialized patinas give the bronze depth, and humanity is felt in the fine details and asymmetries of the athlete’s gloves and stance. In this sculpture, the personal and the specific meet the higher aspirations of a community, symbolized in the heroic commemoration of a beloved sports and war veteran.
If the Pat Tillman commemorative sculpture is a figure of the heart, then the Jack Schmitt sculpture “Exploring a Valley on the Moon” at the Kennedy Space Center is a figure of the mind, representing human capacity to explore beyond perceived limits through the discipline of science. Apollo Astronaut Jack Schmitt was the last person to step foot on the moon, and a replica of his achievement stands at the Apollo Saturn V Visitors Center at Cape Kennedy. The statue was sculpted in clay by Tom Bollinger with details added by General manager, Jacob Sterenberg, then cast in bronze, all at Bollinger Atelier’s foundry. Great care was taken in replicating the details of Schmitt’s A7LB spacesuit, which in life protected the astronauts from 150 degree celsius surface heat in the sun, and minus 150 degree cold in shadow. The bronze replica manages to hold cloth-like details, elastic and stitches, Teflon cloth, hoses, and attachments, with finishes that appear natural to their original materials, now lasting many lifetimes in bronze. It is said that the sculpture celebrates not only the Apollo program, but more than 400,000 Americans who contributed to its success. Beyond that, it commemorates the innate human dream and capacity to touch the stars.
Working across history, story, and material process, Bollinger Atelier’s work produces memorials of great longevity, substance, and storytelling. These commemorative pieces invite collaboration from a wide range of clients on a variety of scales, from small series to larger-than-life productions. Each work is inspired by the unique story, the artistic challenge, and complex problem-solving. Bollinger Atelier makes its mark on history by paying attention to detail and context; in the process, the Atelier creates commemorative art that is expansive, rich, and nuanced.