Book Review – Modeling in Wax for Jewelry and Sculpture

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By Bernard BernsteinMore from this author

My first reaction when I heard about this book was, "It's about time." Think of it: If you tried to read every new book on jewelry-making, you would be reading most of the time. Yet, how many books can you name that concentrate primarily on the art of working wax or wax modeling? This is surprising when you consider that lost wax casting has been around for a few thousand years and has been one of the chief means of production among craft jewelers and manufacturers for the last four or five decades.

Modeling in Wax for Jewelry and Sculpture
By Lawrence Kallenberg
Chilton, Philadelphia, PA, 1981
252 pages, illustrated, $18.50

I guess the reasons for the neglect may be that almost every how-to-do-it jewelry book has some information on casting, and wax model-making will usually be covered, even if superficially and possibly modelmakers chose not to write books, either because they wanted to keep their knowledge private or because they felt there wasn't that much useful information on the subject to fill a book.

It is the nature of systems to progress to higher levels of complexity, and the jewelry field is not exempt from that law. Each generation builds on the knowledge laid down by the previous one and specialization becomes the inevitable result. There is a time for everything, and this book by Lawrence Kallenberg is one whose time has come. He realized that a chapter on wax modeling in the average jewelry-making book was not enough and that the field had become so specialized that there was, indeed, enough to fill a book.

A glance at the table of contents suggests that little or nothing has been left out. The book goes into careful detail on tools and equipment, the many different types of wax available to the modelmaker the characteristics of each wax and ways of working waxes. There is even information on finishing the metal casting.

The book is organized around a series of projects, each exemplifying either a particular type of jewelry, a type of wax or a method of working wax. Some people may find the project approach confining; I find it to be the most efficient way to help students master a set of skills so they can proceed to the personal expression phase of their work with more confidence. Kallenberg doesn't just assign the project and leave you to flounder on your own. He lists the tools and materials you will need for each piece of work. He provides precise, beautifully drawn pen-and-ink illustrations and, best of all, he goes into extraordinary detail on every step of the procedure.

It is easy to conclude that the author has thought of everything and would feel terrible if he didn't share it with you. Sharing information seems to be a custom among most American craftsmen, and, fortunately, Kallenberg has followed this tradition. Much of what he writes has a tricks-of-the-trade aura about it and is invested with the sense of authority that comes from mastering a craft first and then deciding to write about it.

Do I have any reservations at all? Yes, there were one or two minor technical slips having to do with metal rather than wax working. I also felt that the author tended to, pardon me, wax poetic more often than necessary by referring to the "things of beauty" the reader is making. Otherwise, based on what I have seen so far, this is the definitive work. If you want to work with wax, you should own this book.

By Bernard Bernstein
Metalsmith Magazine – 1984 Spring
In association with SNAG‘s
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.

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Bernard Bernstein

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