California Riding Magazine • March, 2012

Creating The Hickstead Trophy
Mary Sand's labor of love to pay tribute
to an equine hero.

by Hollie Wilent

The final sculpture.

Mary leans over the clay with an intense look on her face. Slowly, the image of a horse emerges from the clay form ... ears, eyes, a beautiful neck arching out from the shoulders. Truly a labor of love, Mary toils over every detail – striving for perfection in the image she is creating, until she notices the time. She is late to muck out the stalls and feed the goats! Such is a typical day for Mary Sand, as she balances her time as a successful equine sculptor while managing her farm in Bucks County, PA.

Mary's portfolio is filled with bronze sculptures she has created throughout the years. Many of these pieces have been commissioned by the owners, owners looking to capture the essence of their horses in bronze, as well as the joy their horses bring to their lives. One such recent commission was The Hickstead Trophy for Equine Canada's Horse of the Year award.

Mary received a call from Cheryl Tataryn of Equine Canada in late November 2011. Cheryl had seen Mary's work and had selected her to create the trophy which would be a tribute to Hickstead, the Canadian show jumping champion who died of an aortic rupture just after competing in Italy last November. He was small in stature but huge in heart and carried Eric Lamaze to countless victories.

Mary working on the sculpture in wax.

The challenge was the timeline: Mary was only given two and a half weeks to create the sculpture in clay before it had to be taken to the foundry for casting in bronze. Normally, for a work of this magnitude, Mary would require at least two months of research to gather all information needed and to create the original sculpture in clay. The project was also to be kept confidential prior to the award, adding to the difficulty to obtain detailed information. However, this was a commission she could not turn down.

"Creating the Hickstead Trophy has gripped my heart from beginning to end. Not a day went by, when studying the form of this magnificent horse, that a tear failed to fall from my eyes. As an artist I was expressly honored to have been selected to create a sculpture that celebrates the character, strength, athleticism of the best show jumper in the world. It is clear that Eric had a tremendous sense of appreciation for Hickstead, and that is what fueled my inspiration for creating this sculpture."
To create the Hickstead sculpture, first an armature or skeletal system was created to hold the clay form together; Mary then worked diligently to create the sculpture in clay. The completed clay sculpture was then brought to Artworks foundry in Berkeley to begin the "lost wax" casting process. Traveling with the clay sculpture of Hickstead had its challenges – especially when getting through airport security!

Once the sculpture arrived at the foundry, a rubber mold with plaster backing was made of the clay sculpture; the clay was then removed, leaving a cavity in which to pour the wax. With the foundry closed for the Christmas holiday, the mold was shipped to Mary's Studio where she poured the wax, creating the sculpture in wax. Using dental tools and a candle to heat the tools, she "chased" it, removing seams and imperfections that occur during the mold making process and finalizing details such as nostrils, ears and braids. When the wax sculpture was a perfect representation, a ceramic shell was created over the wax. The ceramic shell was fired and the wax melted out, leaving an empty cavity in which to pour the bronze. Once the bronze cooled, the shell was broken away from the bronze to reveal the sculpture. Mary travelled back to California to the foundry to chase the metal and finalize the bronze base; the patina was then applied as the finishing touch.

The patina being applied with a blow torch.

I had the immense pleasure of going to the foundry in Berkeley with Mary and watching the final steps in this creation process. I watched Mary and the artisans at Artworks struggle when trying to balance the sculpture of Hickstead on the slender, ribbon-like structure. I listened to the intense discussions regarding the color and application of the patina, and watched the light shine in Mary's eyes when the Hickstead sculpture was complete and ready for shipment to Canada.

After this visit I have such a new-found appreciation for bronze sculpture. It is an amazingly detailed and labor-intensive process, complete with the use of a blow torch to finalize the patina ... definitely my favorite part! I also look upon the Hickstead trophy in awe and amazement, an incredible tribute to an incredible horse.

For more information, visit Mary Sand Studio: Limited edition bronze sculptures, portraits in oils, trophies and commissions.