Like many other artists, San Diego-born Robert Anders supplemented his creative work with “day jobs” that took him to live in cities ranging from Minneapolis to Kansas City. But when it came time to consider retirement, Baker City, Oregon seemed like the perfect place to settle.
“Here in Baker City, we are surrounded by beautiful nature. And I often work with trees or bushes and draw my inspiration mainly from these natural objects,” says Anders.
Anders’ inspiration translates into plein-air paintings, ceramic vessels and intricately detailed prints that cover the walls of his studio and gallery. But it’s Anders’ bronze vessels that make the biggest impression.
About 30 years ago, Anders got a job at a foundry in Colorado and fell in love with lost-wax bronze casting. The ancient craft involves creating a form in wax which then melts (is ‘lost’) in the casting process, producing an exact copy in bronze.
“I had the idea that you could probably throw wax on a potter’s wheel and pour it directly into the bronze. And so that singular idea really carried me away until I realized what a big mess it was,” he recalls with a sad chuckle.
Looking for ways to achieve the fine-textured results he wanted without burning his hands, Anders decided to build his wax forms on models he had first cast in clay. The liquid wax is then poured onto the sculpted clay surface to create a wax relief version of the design.
Once dry, the wax form is removed from the clay one for fine tuning with various knives, dremels and finally a hot iron. Finally, a “sprew” is attached to the bottom. This is the kind of funnel through which the bronze will be poured. The wax form is then ready to be sent to the foundry to be cast.
Fortunately, many places in eastern Oregon and Washington have bronze foundries. But for Anders, Baker City offered more than just access.
“Because it’s a bit isolated, it was quite affordable. Or at least that was 10 years ago,” says Anders. “I retired and decided to invest and rehabilitate this beautiful old building.”
Anders’ red brick building from 1890 housed a liquor distributor, including Cyrus Noble, distiller of the “whisky that conquered the west.” The interior space’s 17-foot ceilings give it a sense of expansiveness, which reinforces the feeling that ideas can flow freely here. In a very real way, the beautifully restored structure is one of his works of art.
Over a two-year period, Anders converted the second floor into a 2,500 square foot living space, complete with a working elevator. On the ground floor, the front of the building gives access to a gallery where he exhibits his work. Behind the gallery, the art space contains both a calm and clean painting studio as well as a studio with a garage door that opens onto the street.
“It’s my dirty workplace where I grind and work bronze and make a big mess,” he laughs.
Anders’ large workspace gives him all the room, tools and resources he needs to produce an abundance of artwork. But after a lifetime of doing just that, Anders still approaches his work with respect and humility.
“I strive to be competent as a craftsman, as a painter. I went through all the iterations of trying to paint realistically and relaxing. Or try to sculpt in realism and then relax. My artistic practice is really about letting things roll, letting them unfold, seeing how they develop.