Content By Melvin J. Wachowiak, Basiliki Vicky Karas, and Robert E. Baltrusch

Melvin J. Wachowiak, Basiliki Vicky Karas, and Robert E. Baltrusch’s default image

By: Melvin J. Wachowiak, Basiliki Vicky Karas, and Robert E. Baltrusch

Hiram Powers (1805–1873) is considered one the America’s great neoclassical sculptors. His works were popular in his time and remain so today. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) has one of the most comprehensive collections of Powers’ work featuring major sculptures in marble, as well as preparatory works from his studio. The plaster piece mold (figures 1 and 2), Mold for Positive Cast of a Child’s Hand (ca. 1851) discussed in this paper, is a rare surviving mold for a preparatory work. There are no surviving casts known. As such, it gives insight into Powers’ study for other finished works. The example being described in this paper is fragile and has lost two of its eight parts, making it difficult to store or move safely.

The initial request from SAAM conservators sought to determine if the scan data could indicate whether or not a cast from the mold existed in the collection. In addition, the conservators wanted to explore the feasibility of recreating the lost mold pieces to stabilize the assembly. Methods traditionally used to cast from an extant mold or otherwise copy a surface (such as flexible rubber mold making) were deemed too intrusive and thus likely to compromise the surviving mold pieces.