A ‘gem' of a sculptor

2008-02-01 00:00

MIKE Maudsley had been making jewellery for 30 years - exacting, small-scale work - before he felt the need to tackle something completely different. “I was tired of doing small items. I wanted to do something I could stand back from and look at.” And so he turned his hand to bronze sculpture.

Maudsley has been on the Midlands Meander for just over a year - he appears on the latest map as Viva Voce in Lidgetton and eventually hopes to expand to be able to offer breakfasts and lunches - all organic. The outlet is small but filled with examples of his work - gold and silver jewellery ranging from chunky rings, necklaces and pendants, some with gems, to tiny, delicate leaf-shaped earrings. Then there are his sculptures - lions, elephants, the head of a yawning leopard. And the shop is also the studio.

Maudsley is working on various new pieces, sculpting the originals in deep orange wax. One is a rock pigeon standing on a sunflower head, another will, when completed, show two koi swimming among reeds.

“I do all the design and sculpture here, and all the jewellery is made here, but the bronzes are cast by Kim Goodwin,” says Maudsley. If he had to do his own foundry work, it would leave little time for anything else.

Maudsley learnt his jewellery-making and design through an apprenticeship to a jewellery company. “It's the best way to go,” he says. “You can find the technical stuff in books - and burn your fingers, literally. But you learn best from watching other people.” When he decided to do more than just jewellery, he taught himself to sculpt the larger, wildlife pieces.

Mostly, he makes an edition of 35 before the mould is destroyed. But he has made one-off pieces as commissions. A collector asked him to sculpt a Swainson's francolin as a unique piece and Maudsley did it. Obviously, the price has to be higher but if that is what the customer wants, the sculptor will do it.

One of the sculptures, almost ready to be taken off to the foundry, is of a buffalo, lifelike in its detail, with a tiny oxpecker sitting just below one shoulder. “Maybe I'll ask Kim to cast the bird as a separate piece and then we can put it in a different place on each of the bronzes he casts - on the head, the back or the flanks. Each one will then be unique,” he says.

“The wax originals are fragile, particularly in the summer heat,” says Maudsley, showing me a fish eagle, with two of the powerful wing feathers

broken off. “In winter, it's fine,” he says. “But I've learnt. Vulnerable pieces, like these, should have a stronger armature inside the wax.”

On one shelf stands a row of small bronze pots, not more than three or four centimetres high. In each is a tiny silver flower or twig, or in one case, a couple of little toadstools.

“Those are actual plants,” says Maudsley, and explains the process of taking something picked from the garden outside his studio and turning it into silver. “You mix a refractory powder, used for casting, with water. You then put the flower into a cylinder and pour the mixture in. It goes into a vacuum machine that sucks the air out - that's to get rid of any bubbles - and then into a kiln for five hours. That burns out the plant material and leaves a mould. Then you lower the heat to 400° and pour in the silver. It's just like the lost wax process for casting bronze.”

He shows me the curled fronds of a fern, small leaves and conifer twigs, all done the same way. They are unusual, attractive pieces and much more affordable - and portable for overseas travellers - than the bigger bronzes. And they give Maudsley a bridge between the tiny, up close work that jewellery needs and the bronze pieces with their “stand back and look at” requirements.

• Viva Voce is on the R103, about 100 metres past Granny Mouse, on the left-hand side. To contact Mike Maudsley, phone 083 294 0107.

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