Honing a Craft: The Art of Collaboration With The American Fine Arts Foundry


February 9, 2023

The House Magazine

Written by Bobby Milligan

Photography courtesy of The American Fine Arts Foundry

Brett Barney is no stranger to the arts, being that he has been surrounded by different inspirational artistic figures from an early age, it is no wonder he landed on the path he is currently pursuing. Brett’s parents both took up oil painting when he was about four or five, and he watched them through their individual creative processes. His first major impression of art was something his father did. The painting encompassed a mountain goat perched on a rock outcropping, surveying the valley below. Brett knew the source of the inspiration was an amateur film his father shot while flying Search and Rescue helicopters in the Coast Guard, and knew the goats were actually in motion, hopping across the steep walls of the ravine. The painting struck Brett with the majesty of capturing a moment and being totally suspended in time. The impact of a singular moment is what initially gave him a true appreciation for art, and as he grew older, he only became more familiar with the intricacies of the creative process.

Aside from his parents, Brett had a few other inspirations or mentors earlier on in his life that left him with different knowledge and experiences. His grandfather was a master electrician and facilities engineer for several large industrial companies, and taught him how to work with tools as they would work on projects after school. This led Brett to become a “maker” at a very early age, equally interested in the design and execution of his conceptions. As he got older, he continued to be surrounded by creatives, such as an older friend of his, an architect, who had studied art history, and later began designing furniture. Brett spent a lot of time watching him visualize and create, once again exposing him to a personal creative process. Through this exposure and many more that he had early on, it is no wonder Brett has a constant and lasting connection to art and design.

Before starting the work he now does, Brett worked in many areas, most of which were somehow tethered to the creative process, and grounded in artistic roots. In his earlier work life he had been restoring historical properties, which had inspired him as he strived to “keep the spirit and preserve” a property to the most comprehensive possibility. This ultimately led to Brett’s transition into hi-technology where he was involved in the application of 3D graphical supercomputing for creative professionals. As he worked, Brett also spent time traveling to 40+ countries, holding an interest in local and indigenous art, and collecting pieces along the way. This allowed him to develop a keen eye for artwork and to absorb different styles and mediums. Over time, Brett has taken those artistic impressions to design furniture, creating bespoke pieces, which allowed him to really put artistry at the forefront of his daily work.

Roughly 20 years ago, he met the now former owner of American Fine Arts Foundry, a company of highly talented artisans assisting artists in replicating their sculptural works. Initially Brett viewed the company as a business opportunity, hoping to possibly implement his personal designs as well, but as he began to collaborate with sculptors to execute their projects, collaboration quickly turned into a passion. Brett grew his business-turned passion into a strong team of artisans to provide only the highest level service for clients.

The main goal of American Fine Arts Foundry is to provide artists with the process to painstakingly reproduce their sculptures that they sell directly or through galleries. It is imperative that they maintain the artist’s original creative intent. Sculpting with the intention of bronze casting is unique in that artists turn over their creation to a 3rd party foundry partner to mold their original work and then reproduce it in bronze with lost wax casting. In order to do this, especially with limited editions, Brett explains that we as a team must “crawl inside the mind of the artist,” to fully understand the complexities of a work, and be able to reproduce it precisely. Communication on all fronts is a quintessential part to this process, and constant collaboration with the artist is a must. There is a ten-step production process, each step having its own specialized artisans that must work together to deliver the project to the artists’ expectations.

Brett notes that his team enjoys the challenge of difficult projects, as it is the problem-solving process that makes us better and hones our craft. As technology continues to advance, American Fine Arts Foundry evaluates and embraces those technologies that bring advantages and value to our clients, such as software like zBrush for 3D sculpting in software or large format 3D printing for “lost-print” casting. “We find ourselves at the intersection of traditional methods and technological progress, blending the two for the modern era of the New Bronze Age. He goes on to say that with all the advantages technology provides, there is still an organic beauty and sense of personality that comes from sculpting clay by hand. While the technology provides new methods and opportunities, the center of the entire sculptor and art foundry relationship is the language of artistry and collaboration. It is only through human-to-human connection that we can fully understand the nuance, gesture, and details that add up to understanding our clients’ visions. One of the things that the team at American Fine Arts Foundry enjoys the most is when an artist presents them with a sketch or concept and the creative dialog and brainstorming energy that comes with figuring out how to best execute the project.

“Art celebrates culture, captures culture, and creates culture” in a way that becomes much harder to represent with words, Brett says on the importance of art. He views art as an act of generosity and that those majestic moments in time represented in artworks become soulful connections between creators and viewers. Sculpture creates a sense of space and place, and has a presence that can be felt. When artists are creating, it pulls them out of their heads and into their hearts, creating a profoundly close relationship with their work.

Brett feels lucky to be able to participate in this relationship of an artist and his or her art and to imbue this emotion into the bronze on behalf of the artist. In order to create something from the artist’s eyes, the personal intention of a piece and how an artist has created or visualized it must be understood to the fullest extent. In such a way, the art is truly borne and lives on as an act of collaboration.