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Foundry makes bronze gator to ‘guard’ Mount Dora lighthouse

January 5, 2018

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Reptilian behemoth “Old Joe” stretches 15 feet from nose to tail, weighs about 1,200 pounds and boasts a menacing mouth of teeth.

But the bronze gator was meant to lure visitors to Mount Dora — not scare them away.

“Better that little kids climb on him and take pictures with him and not mess with the real ones,” said Shawn Ganim of the American Bronze Foundry in Sanford, where the lifelike alligator was created to “guard” the lighthouse on Lake Dora.

Fashioned from molten bronze, the statue — expected to be installed in February — is the latest piece of public art produced by the foundry established about 25 years ago.

Located near the Orlando Sanford International Airport, the foundry’s many works include “Victory Knight,” a figure of a knight on rearing horse in front of the University of Central Florida’s Alumni Center, the bronze effigy of Atlas on the clock tower at Crane’s Roost in Altamonte Springs and a seven-penguin fountain at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney.

The foundry creates its works with a staff of 16, using a 3,000-year-old technique called “lost wax” that was developed in the ancient Tigrus-Euphrates Valley.

The multi-step process converts clay sculptures into a ceramic mold in which molten bronze is poured. This allows the foundry to capture details as fine as a strand of a woman’s hair or as delicate as a feather on an eagle’s wing. Large projects like “Old Joe” must be created in sections that are welded together. The big gator took eight months to create from sculpture to statue.

Foundry artisans also crafted a statue of pioneering educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune standing in Daytona Beach and figures of late Apopka Mayor John Land near the entrance of City Hall and at Kit Land Nelson Park.

“We’ve got sculptures all over the world,” said Ganim, the foundry’s sales manager.

The foundry has created molds or poured busts of U.S. presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Other likenesses created at the foundry include U.S. Medal of Honor winner Melvin Morris of Cocoa; Civil War generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; and iconic religious figures, including Jesus and an angel at Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe south of the Premium Outlets along Interstate 4.

In addition, the foundry makes bronze memorials, plaques and statuettes.

“Business was strong in 2017 but we are seeing a lot of larger projects coming to fruition in 2018,” Ganim said. “We are seeing an increase in public art memorials at the moment. We are looking forward to a strong 2018.”

But the company got its beginnings with a handful of artisans forging jewelry, said Charlie Wambold, who founded the business with his wife, Renee.

While visiting other operations, he saw those foundries creating sculptures for museums and parks.

“I ended up just loving it,” Wambold said. “I wanted to do more than just something small I could hold in my hand, and this is where we ended up.”

The foundry crafted the landmark statue at Veterans Memorial Park in Sanford — a majestic flying eagle overlooking Lake Monroe — and a woman sailor statue that will be installed next year at Blue Jacket Park as a complement to the Lone Sailor Memorial to honor those who served in the Navy and trained at the Naval Training Center in Orlando. The woman sailor statue is named “Blue Jacket Recruit.”

In May, the Army installed a bronze sculpture at Fort Bragg, N.C., to celebrate the mission of the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Command.

The life-size sculpture, cast at the foundry, depicts the Greek god of war, Ares, with sword raised riding a pegasus centaur — half human, half winged horse — with its bow drawn and arrow aimed.

The statue is all bronze except the tip of the arrow, which was forged from steel taken from the wreckage of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that crashed during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

The sculpture bears the title “Volare Optimos,” Latin for “Fly with the best,” the unit’s motto.

“Old Joe” the Mount Dora alligator cost $52,000 to design, sculpt and bronze, an expense split between two private donors, dentist Loyd “Mike” Kiernan and Richard MacSherry, a philanthropist who died at 99 in October, said Donna Shelley, who heads the Mount Dora Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

“I think it’ll be a hit,” she said. “I think there’ll be pictures sent all over the world and posted all over the internet of people posing with this ginormous alligator.”

Shelley said both philanthropists were inspired by public reaction to “Imagine,” a life-sized statue of peace activist John Lennon sitting on a bench in Mount Dora’s Sunset Park, his arms outstretched, head tipped back to face the sky. It was loaned to the art-friendly town by its sculptor, Lawrence Holofcener, who removed it in 2013 when he relocated to the United Kingdom.

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Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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