The Crucible Foundry, Gallery and Sculpture Garden
Even if you’ve never set foot inside The Crucible, odds are that you’ve gazed upon some of their handiwork. The artists at the Norman-based art foundry cast the bronze Centennial Land Run Monument, the work of Oklahoma artist Paul Moore, in Bricktown near downtown Oklahoma City, featuring 45 statues of the earliest Oklahomans. Or perhaps you’ve noticed the Pastoral Dreamer sculpture on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, a triple-life-sized bronze man by artist David L. Phelps relaxing on Parrington Oval.
The Crucible’s reach expands well-past the boundaries of our state. This full-service foundry has helped envision, create and install bronze sculptures for the private sector, governments and municipalities across the nation. By providing full design, production and installation services, The Crucible truly is a one-of-a kind service provider located in the heart of downtown Norman.
The artistic integrity that shows in The Crucible’s work is a family affair. Mark Palmerton began working in his father’s foundry at the age of 7, and it has become a lifelong passion. Mark and his brother Steve own The Crucible, where Steve serves as the artist-in-residence. The Crucible began casting its first pieces in 1999 and opened an exhibit featuring the work of four local artists in early 2000. For more than 15 years, the brothers have worked with a staff of more than a dozen artists and artisans to bring their sculptures to life.
Housed in the historic former Carey Lumber Building at 110 East Tonhawa in Norman, The Crucible’s headquarters also include a 1,400-square-foot gallery and outdoor sculpture garden. Smaller versions of many of the foundry’s sculptures are on display in the gallery, along with artwork from local and national artists. Larger pieces are on display in the lawn surrounding the gallery, creating a relaxing sculpture garden for visitors to enjoy.
“The Carey Lumber Building just felt like the perfect home for us. It’s a little piece of Norman’s history, which fits since we work to memorialize history,” explains Stephanie Enouen, who manages the gallery and serves as Mark Palmerton’s assistant. “Our sculptures help put the spotlight on the veterans, historical figures or persons of honor. The statue is there to serve as a visual representation of history, we are just there to be behind the scenes. Without the foundry, it can’t happen, and we love being part of the process.”
A Distinctive Process
The Crucible is one of only three foundries in the nation using ceramic shells to cast large pieces, some weighing in at more than 500 pounds. The Crucible’s kiln is one of the largest in the region, allowing them to create sculptures on a variety of scales. The staff of The Crucible works directly with artists and sculptors to create their pieces, as well as helping clients with conception, creation, delivery and installation.
“A person or business that has an interest in bronze sculptures needn’t look any further for fine art,” adds Enouen. “For people interested in owning something that will outlive them, bronze is the way to go. Many of our clients appreciate the opportunity to put something in their yard or home that will truly make it one-of-a-kind. Our sculptures allow people to create a sanctuary in their own world and enhance their personal space.”
The process of creating their sculptures is a combination of art, technology, skill and choreography. Once the artist creates a smaller scale version of sculpture, the design then goes through a digital scanning process. Working with the digital file, The Crucible can produce the design at any size, on any scale. The Crucible’s production system then cuts the design out of lightweight foam, which is sprayed with clay and used to make the molds. The molds are filled with bronze during a pour, an extremely complicated process involving three staff members.
“They have worked together doing pours for years,” says Enouen. “It really is like choreography. They fall right in step with each other.”
The finished pieces are welded together as needed, given the desired patina; the statue is then finished and prepared for installation.
Reaching a National Audience
Over the past year, The Crucible has shared it passion for bronze sculpture with a national audience through the reality show Monument Guys on The History Channel.
“We were contacted by a media company kind of out of the blue, and it eventually turned into the show. We didn’t actually want to be famous, we just wanted foundry work,” Eounen recalls, laughing.
Monument Guys launched in May 2015, and full episodes can be streamed at history.com/shows/monument-guys.
In addition to creating larger-than-life-sized statues, The Crucible works to strengthen ties in the community. The Crucible recently rejoined Norman’s 2nd Friday Art Walk.
“We will primarily showcase the gallery and the artwork on display,” Enouen notes, explaining that the very nature of the foundry makes tours impossible. “We love to have the opportunities to network and to create awareness about who we are and what we do. We are strong supporters of promoting the arts in Norman.”
The Crucible also is working to partner with local food trucks and distilleries to add to their art walk offerings.
Eounen has spent nearly three years working for the Palmertons, and says she can’t ever see herself working anywhere else.
“These guys really are far and above anyone else in the industry,” she says. “You aren’t going to get a better bronze. They are sculptors themselves, so they understand artists. They grew up in a foundry, so they understand bronze work.”
For Eounen and the rest of the staff of The Crucible, the art they create serves an even higher purpose.
“Art can create emotion, provide education, inspire us and help us find a different perspective,” she concludes. “Sculptures have the ability to go beyond words, beyond pictures. You can literally see the artist’s hands on a sculpture, and feel what he or she felt. And for us, it is all about reminding people that there is fine art to be found right here in Norman, right here in Cleveland County, right here in Oklahoma. Locally, there are things that are worthy of admiration and appreciation.”