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backstory: Fragile and precious

Long ago, as a curatorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), I received a phone call from someone who said they would like to bring something in to be seen.  In those days, I met with a lot of artists who were interested in having their work shown at the NMWA, but this felt a little different.
A woman arrived, carrying a small cardboard box.  She opened the box and, in some very old tissue paper, she revealed a small sculpture, which, as a long time Harriet Hosmer fan, I recognized immediately to be the Clasped Hands of Elizabeth and Robert Browning. This was special.  I had only seen the bronze sculpture, but this wasn’t bronze, it was plaster.  One way of creating a bronze sculpture is through a technique called cire perdue or lost wax casting. Essentially the plaster is covered with wax, which is then covered with a casting material, the piece is heated, the wax melts away, and you are left with a cast into which you can pour the bronze. 
 
What’s special about the plaster as opposed to bronze? Not only is it very fragile and therefore rare, but it’s also just that much closer to the subject, in this case the actual clasped hands of the poets.
 
Tracy Fitzpatrick
Director, Neuberger Museum of Art