A NEW MATERIAL
by Nancy Frankel
Sometime in the early eighties, I was introduced to Design Cast. I was visiting the Seward Johnson Atelier in Princeton, New Jersey, where the material was being evaluated. Design Cast had been developed for use in architecture and was being refined for use in sculpture. At that time I was working mostly on indoor pieces and was eager to make larger, outdoor sculptures. Design Cast seemed like a material which would be affordable and workable, an alternative to bronze casting.
Design Cast is a white aluminosilicate powder and is mixed by weight with a liquid polymer emulsion and water. It has a workable time of twenty to thirty minutes. I needed to get a scale for accurate weighing and a "Jiffy" mixer for my electric drill in order to properly blend the materials. I worked with two different Design Cast products for two methods of work - direct sculpture and casting from a mold.
My first pieces were made directly over a form constructed of foam core. I applied three layers of fiber glass saturated with the Design Cast mixture and then a final coat of the mixture itself. It was necessary to cover the work with plastic overnight for slow drying. It could then be sanded with an electric sander. I could also wet the piece and add more Design Cast.
Then I started casting from molds. First I made the original form using plasticine, an oil-base clay. Then I made a polyurethane mold backed up by plaster. Because of the size of the work, there would sometimes be five of six sections to the mold. With this method, the first application of the Design Cast mixture would be the final outside surface. Fiber strands could be added and then several layers of fiberglass saturated with Design Cast. The final thickness, not more that one-half an inch, would be very strong, as hard as steel. When using this method for larger, outdoor pieces, I made a welded steel inside frame to which I attached the parts. Casting for molds gave me the opportunity to make more than one piece if I wished.
The Design Cast mixture could be used as mixed. It was also possible to add powdered pigments to create a color, or finely ground glass or sand to create a texture. The final piece would be cleaned and sealed. Paint could be added, or a patina could be applied. I found a copper paint. I could let the first coat dry and then while the second coat was still not yet dry, I could add on some acid. This produced a greenish, metallic patina which became one of my favorites.
I worked for approximately twenty years with Design Cast. I made reliefs, fountains, sun dials and commissioned outdoor sculpture. These pieces exist locally and in various parts of the country, and they have held up very well. I have several sculptures in my back yard that have been there for many years, and are in excellent condition. I felt a real sense of loss when the producer of this material, having met with legal difficulties when trying to sell the formula, gave up and stopped making DesignCast.