Stepping into the new Santa Barbara Art Foundry is a bit like entering Willy Wonka’s factory. Gleaming, lustrous works of art, rich with color and detail, await like confections for the eye. Peering through windows into room after room at the complex activities necessary to bring these delicious-looking pieces into being takes one even deeper into connection with the famed chocolate factory.
At their Oct. 5 grand opening, foundry staff offered guided tours illustrating each step of the process of creating bronze sculptures by featured artist Tim “The Frogman” Cotterill. Artisans in white protective suits labored lovingly over each of the many steps of this ancient process, known as the “lost-wax casting” method, which can be traced back 4,000 years.
The Santa Barbara Art Foundry is the newest addition to the ever-growing Funk Zone. Located at 120 Santa Barbara St., it is housed in an expansive space, once a garage that restored classic cars. Now it is one of the few art foundries in the world open to the public. Guided tours will be offered from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
The McTavish family — Ian and Jolie and their son, Andy, who has just graduated from business school — are the proprietors of this unique establishment. You might say metalwork is in the bloodline; Ian’s father, James, was born in Scotland and started out in the 1950s producing copper tanks for the distillation of whiskey. The McTavishes emigrated to Santa Barbara in 1967, and Ian started the family foundry business in 1977, Image Casting in Oxnard, which produced industrial parts.
When James McTavish retired nearly 20 years ago, Ian and Jolie took over, with a focus on bronze sculptures. Image Casting was sold and they established F.I. Finishing in Ventura, a full-service foundry still in operation. The creation of Santa Barbara Art Foundry and its placement in the Funk Zone is a chance for them to expand and to bring an elegant showroom aspect to the business, as well as exposing their work to a new market.
They liken their function to that of a publisher, but of art rather than books. When an artist creates a sculpture and wants it produced for sale, the Santa Barbara Art Foundry is able to “publish” the piece in large numbers.
Their current featured artist is Cotterill, known as “The Frogman.” A native of Leicester, England, he left school at 15 and apprenticed as an engineer. Since 1990 he has lived in California and devoted himself to his bronze sculptures, mostly of frogs. His fascination and appreciation for these creatures comes out in his work, each one with its own colors, patterns and personality, just like the animals themselves.
Other artists whose work is available at Santa Barbara Art Foundry are revered Chinese artist Ting Shao Kuang and the late Erté, iconic set and fashion designer who later in his career branched out into other artistic pursuits, including bronzes, prints and wearable art.
Another artful dimension to Santa Barbara Art Foundry is its partnership with Los Olivos-based Blair Fox Cellars wine company. Sarah and Blair Fox are proud to open their first tasting room in Santa Barbara, located at the SBAF showroom, pouring 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday. The addition of this new label and its wines to the established Urban Wine Trail is another reason to visit the Funk Zone.
Like the art displayed on the premises, their wines are lovingly made by hand to highlight the qualities of Santa Barbara grapes. One cannot help but ponder the parallels between the intense, multistep process involved in creating bronze sculptures and the making of wine. It seems that in order to yield such fine results, in both cases there is the need for skill, devotion, time and love of the process.
Click here for more information on Santa Barbara Art Foundry.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.