“Challenge us!” From Da Vinci to Wonderwoman: How American Fine Arts Foundry Combines Tech, Skill, and Curiosity to Achieve Excellence

“Challenge us!” From Da Vinci to Wonderwoman: How American Fine Arts Foundry Combines Tech, Skill, and Curiosity to Achieve Excellence

What separates American Fine Arts Foundry in the world of metal casting is a hard-to-beat combination of experience and dedication. Instilled in the foundry’s culture is a commitment to remain curious about how technology can improve both workflows and aesthetics, knowledge built up over years of being an industry pioneer, and customer service that aims to surpass client expectations. The belief comes from a track record of success, whether it be through making complex and dynamic one-off monumental works or bronze sculpture editions with exacting details and finishes. Backed by nearly half a century of history, the company has worked with some of the most beloved artists in the public art world.

The quality associated with American Fine Arts Foundry’s name is well-known in the metal casting industry. Brett Barney, the CEO & Chief Collaborator of the business, has guided the company to new heights for almost twenty years. His creative journey began early in life, when as a young kid, his grandfather, a master tradesman, taught him “maker” skills and how to work in wood and metal. During his high school days, Barney further developed his maker skills through jobs in a custom yacht manufacturing yard, as a technician casting gold in a dental laboratory, and the restoration of 4 classic sports cars. After graduating from college, he spent nearly 20 years honing his business skills while working for leading tech companies such as Silicon Graphics and Dell Computer. “My years in world-class manufacturing companies taught me principles I’ve been able to apply to our much smaller company,” Barney says. To help relax from the pace of these roles, he was inspired back to his maker roots and started designing and fabricating “art furniture” that valued not just function, but form. When his father, a corporate appraiser, notified him about an “art-industry” company for sale, Barney leaned in and purchased the business and began a new chapter in his career. Ever since Barney became owner in 2004, the American Fine Arts team has worked on numerous major projects with high profile clients such as KAWS, Richard MacDonald, Antony Micallef, Ed Ruscha, Bill Mack, Sony Pictures, DC Comics, Warner Bros., Disney, Marty Eichinger, Chris Slatoff, and many more. American Fine Arts Foundry has even worked on a historically significant project attributed to one of the world’s greatest artists: Leonardo Da Vinci. Around 2012, a 30 year-old mold of a 500 year-old beeswax maquette found in Europe was brought to the foundry for examination. The original sculpture was authenticated by three Da Vinci scholars, including Dr. Carlo Pedretti, the head of Da Vinci studies at UCLA. American Fine Arts Foundry was able to successfully pull one wax from the aging mold and produce a bronze statue of this tribute to Da Vinci’s friend, Charles d’Amboise, known as The Horse and Rider.

The employees at American Fine Arts Foundry are the most important drivers of the company’s success. As skilled professionals working in approximately ten different specializations, many of them focus on a particular step in the process before passing the project to colleagues to take the work to the next stage. At each stage of this process, attention to detail is mandatory, because each phase builds on those that proceed it. American Arts Foundry offers over 300 patina options, and Barney emphasized that AFA wants to provide clients with the broadest palette of options. By experimenting with various salts and acids, the company develops patinas which can put the final magic into a project. “We look at the patina as the frosting on the cake,” Barney says. Potential clients should feel confident: The average length of time an employee has worked at the foundry is more than two decades! That kind of expertise is coupled with an aim to deliver the best experience possible for customers. For particularly demanding specifications, the foundry also maintains strong relationships with a network of reliable and talented maker collaborators, who are pulled in as necessary for certain projects. The foundry can bring water jet, blacksmith, fountain expertise, structural engineers, and high-end paint partners to the project, acting as a one stop shop.

American Fine Arts Foundry uses technology to improve or increase both the aesthetic qualities and options for production. Exploring and making use of technology tools or new processes keeps the foundry close to innovation. The company’s employees not only have enormous respect and skill for the traditional methods of casting, but are also aware of how to help bring new ideas to the art and to clients.

In 2013, AFA partnered with Form 3D to adapt an innovative 3D printing process for large-format “lost-print” casting. One of the first public artists to use this new method was Spar Street, who had completed a new body of plaster sculptures in Maui, Hawaii, and was thinking of shipping his designs to California for mold making. The odds of shipping the fragile plasters without damage were too high, and American Fine Arts and Form 3D came up with a solution to 3D scan 23 plasters in Spar’s Maui studio, and then 3D print mold masters on the mainland. The solution worked incredibly well and the two companies continued to refine the process. Today other foundries are using the same technology.

The “lost-print” process revolutionized the workflow for American Fine Arts Foundry. The process is especially effective for large format projects and allows the print to be at any size. Rather than having to completely remake new molds for future projects of the same image, but at a different scale, new prints can be scaled and printed out as needed. The benefits of the process are faster project time frames, and no need for mold making or mold storage.

Whether realizing a new bronze sculpture from a mold attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci or making superb superhero statues that are some of the most popular selfie spots in California, Barney knows outstanding work cannot be done alone. Reflecting on how the foundry can accomplish client goals, American Fine Arts Foundry’s CEO states, “I now call myself the Chief Collaborator. Often clients bring a sketch of a project concept and we work together to figure out how to execute it. This is the creative part of the business I love. Helping our client’s problem solve and find a workable solution gets my creative juices flowing. It’s a great sense of accomplishment for the team when we finally pull it off!” Metal casting is an ancient practice, but there are not many people today possessing the knowledge and ability to do the level of high-quality work that is highly sought after. This mix of experience and passion for the art of casting can create amazing results. The foundry has a demonstrated track record of delivering large editions, on-time and consistently, as well as meeting deadlines for critical monumental projects. Working hard to find out how technology and expertise can accomplish objectives is a central tenet of this successful organization, and the simple fact is that there are few people in the world who can accomplish the kind of work that American Fine Arts Foundry is doing and has already done. The company can help with many aspects of a project, as it’s website includes the following: “…we offer everything you need for producing and distributing your sculpture from mold making, casting, enlarging and reducing, patination, marketing, inventory and even drop shipping services.”

Yet it is not just about the technology, it is about the people, and their willingness to go above and beyond. “Our motto: Challenge us! Bring us the project others have not been able to do.” Barney asserts, “This is our culture and how we ensure our team is always ready for the next challenge.” With a love for art, a curiosity about technical advancements, and an appetite for problem-solving, who would doubt American Fine Arts Foundry can get the job done?