Things To Know Before Buying a Plaster Cast
During these recent decades, the passion for plaster casts and reproductions from the ancient works are having an amazing period of appreciation. Today we are seeing a new attention to the plaster casts and many collectors, art lovers and artists are going to make new purchases to increase their loved collections or just to have a fine piece of art in their own stylish house.
Speaking from my experience I know that many collectors are exigent connoisseurs, and this is certainly stimulant, but I also see that many people, who come for the first time in the world of the casts, are often not able to understand them all the way or to see the difference and the work that goes into their production. I perceive a certain fear and unbelief. We are afraid to buy something that we do not know and certanly we don’t want paying too much or at last to find in our hands something different from what was expected.
I would explain just few points to give a guide to help all those who never bought a plaster cast, but who would love to do it.
Distinguish a Fine Quality Cast from ‘Cheap Rubbish’
You must know that plaster casts are not all the same and the first differences are in quality, making technique and materials used for making.
Since the historical casts (with more than 50 years) have a value of art objects, the modern casts are destined to become one themselves in the future increasing their value both objective and economically. But this will only happen if they are made respecting a protocol of manufacture with the use of right materials and traditional technique.
Purchase only from Professionals
As well as offering the best quality, a workshop of mold makers will have undoubtedly a rich collection. Professionals will be able to meet any particular need, even to different requests from the catalog or an after sales service.
When you know to recognize quality and other factors that give value to the cast you can buy, at the right price, even by antique dealers.
Materials and Techniques
The italian alabaster gypsum is the best material to make a cast. It is also known as Plaster of Paris, but today this has become only a too inflated commercial name by which often call any industrial gypsum. From ancient times plaster was the best and only material used for the production of casts. This material, poor and noble at the same time, is suitable better than any other for the production and casting of the finished cast.
The mold must be completely made by a skilled mold maker and need to remain in technical conformity with the rules of this ancient art.
The cast, whether it be of a bust or a statue must have inside a solid armor that can done solidity and strength to every part. The armor will be larger in large volumes and thinner in the minutest parts.
Alternative materials (such as resins) may be valid and versatile, especially for casts and sculptures very handled or used outdoor, but will have to be manufactured with the same technique and care used for the ones in plaster.
The genuine cast is obtained only by direct contact (of the mold on the original), other reproduction techniques such as 3D printers or mechanical milling cutters and other 3D gadgets do not produce casts but only objects with no value for this pourpose. They should be useful to make other but we do not consider these technologies compatible with the mastering of our art craft.
Take Attention to Quality and Detail of Surfaces!
The cast is substantially the mechanical transfer of the sculpture, from one material to another. So like exact reproduction must faithfully report every minutest detail existing on the original.
The difference in quality may also result in a significant price difference. The cause of this is found in a series of reasons:
-It is not always easy to obtain the mold directly on the original.
-A much used mold loses quality creating casts with bad details and low faithful. It is therefore necessary to make an economic investment in a new mold to maintain an high level of quality of the cast. If you find a bust of Laocoon which costs 10 and another same bust that cost 3, the reason of the difference is that this last is manufactured by saving on production costs, materials and technique and also on ability and experience of the artisan.
-But above all, it must be clear, that a poor cheap cast can never become an object of art with a real value, because it not preserves those characteristics, that comes from tradition and the craft of art. This don’t mean that the quality will be only in a big price, but the price will be right if correspond to the value of a work of art created through an articulated process and the work of a skilled craftsman.
The ‘Surmoulage’ Problem
Many retailers offer reproductions of famous sculptures and busts which are not faithful casts from the original work, but poorly remodeled (do not buy…). Many others are surmoulage that means cast of the cast of the cast… In this way you have lost the precise detail of the original. I personally make a selection very rigid and consider unacceptable casts after the first generation, or exceptionally second generation if the cast is well made and in good condition.
In past centuries, workshops outside Italy mainly in America and in Europe, was not able to access to original marble and bronze of Greek, Roman and Renaissance in museums. So when the molds became wore out and unusable they took new molds from other casts; so the surmoulage became widespread. Today, many of these remaining workshops have the collection more or less full of surmoulage and poor quality casts not faithful. It is always good to do an accurate comparison with the original sculpture!
Appreciating the Patina
The patina is an important element for the cast and determines the enjoyment of the eye and of the touch. It also protects from dust. with Patina we mean a light veiling of pigment and wax or just wax that makes the cast more attractive and enjoyable. Should not be applied colors or rough layers of color on the cast, because that would detract from the detail of the surfaces. If you want to imitate a material such as marble or bronze it is preferable to produce the cast with resin. Often the patina on ancient casts consists in deterioration due to time and dust. It is preferable not to remove anything or cleaning with systems too aggressive. Many cast collector prefer to keep their casts damaged and full of dust just because they belong to a past genuine and an authentic charm.
During the past century the molding and casting workshops ‘signed’ their casts with the inscription of the name, or better, putting in plaster seal or brass label. In this way they going to guaranteeing the quality and origin of their product. Today only historical workshops and professionals still maintain this tradition that provides to offer a guarantee and an added value to the purchase.
Plaster sculpture is a very delicate object if not handled appropriately. Transportation is an important step of the purchase. It is therefore extremely important to take great attention to packaging and the choice of carrier. Type of packing must be chosen considering the conformation of the cast, the size and weight. As an example, a small sculpture standing (with the ankles and arms thin) will require packaging more accurate than a large and heavy bust. The packaging has a cost proportional to these factors but they are well spent money when, after a long intercontinental trip in trucks and aircrafts, the package arrives in good conditions and the cast inside is intact and perfect. When I started to sell worldwide I wanted to do a test to check the effectiveness of my packaging. So I sent a plaster cast of medium size in the United States and then I requested the return to the sender. It was a very useful test to figure out what was going on inside and outside the package during the shipping. Controlling parts consumed I had the opportunity to improve the quality of the cardboard, add the safety locks and made other little improvements.