Take the Stage by Val Lyle

"Take the Stage" by Bristol sculptor Val Lyle was AiPP's first permanent commissioned sculpture to be installed in downtown Bristol. Inspired by the musical heritage of our region, this interactive cast bronze piece features life size figures of male and female musicians playing guitar and fiddle, respectively. A microphone stands between the two figures, with footprints placed in the granite to invite viewers to become part of the work – to "take the stage." You can find "Take the Stage" at Cumberland Square Park in downtown Bristol, VA.

The Sculptor's Process

Once it was decided that Bristol would have a new sculpture, the design process began with discussions inspired by interactive sculptures Mary Jane Miller had seen in Eastern Europe. Many drawings were completed to see different arrangements of people and instruments until a clear choice presented itself. Then real musicians were hired as models to take the poses which helped work out further compositional details.

I took lots and lots of photos, and I also cast the musicians’ hands in alginate, then into plaster for reference. Next I created 1/3 scale models and shipped them to a company to be enlarged into life-size blue foam. These enlargements came back to my studio as a rough general form where I assembled them and began the lengthy process of covering them with oil based clay and modeling all of the detail. Once this is completed, the process to finished bronze sculpture is about half way complete.

Next I took the clay positive forms to the foundry where liquid rubber is painted in layers onto the oil clay, making a rubber negative mold. Plaster is added to back the rubber up, and the oil clay sculpture is removed and the molds cleaned.

A special hard brown wax called Microcrystaline is melted and “slushed” into the rubber molds until a 3/16 inch layer is uniformly created giving another positive form, now in wax. This is dipped into many many coats of a special silica slurry that dries to a hard shell that is very heat resistant.

After 10 to 25 coats are built up and dry, the dipped waxes are placed in a burn-out kiln that melts all the wax out of the ceramic shell, leaving a negative space. Silica bronze is heated to 2100° F and poured into this negative to make a bronze positive. The shell is sandblasted off of the new bronze sections. The many pieces are welded together, and the seams are “chased” to make them disappear.

After all the details are finished, a final sandblasting occurs immediately before the chemical patina process begins. This gives the bronzes their color. A protective hard wax coating is applied as the very last step to protect the patina.

The completed figures weigh about 350 lbs each. The granite stone weighs about 2,500 lbs.

– Val Lyle, Sculptor

Regional Details

Sculptor Val Lyle added significant details she felt would enhance the local appeal of the artwork, such as the following.

  • The basket weave pattern guitar strap was made by James Shelton, guitar player in Ralph Stanley’s band the Clinch Mountain Boys. Mr. Shelton passed away shortly after making the strap.
  • “AIPP” on the guitar strap stands for “Art in Public Places,” the Bristol VA/TN non-profit privately funded organization that made the sculpture possible.
  • The vintage microphone has been fitted with a custom identifier reminiscent of the famous Bristol archway sign similar to the old radio station mics.
  • The guitar brand logo on the guitar’s headstock is invented based on the initials of Marcia and Marvin Gilliam, the donors.
  • The gent is wearing Pointer Brand blue jeans, showing the Bristol-based brand’s logo on both the back and right side pockets.
  • The models were chosen to represent a classic ideal of musicians of this genre. They are in fact local musicians.
  • The fiddle was cast from the female model’s very first fiddle.
  • The Nick Mandloff thumb pick was cast from a vintage original.
  • The sculptor’s stamp, a simple “Val,” is present on both figures.

Can you find any more details?

The Concept

The idea for "Take the Stage" was conceived by former Art in Public Places board member Mary Jane Miller while traveling in Eastern Europe. Bratislava, Slovakia, is full of interactive sculpture in place for photographic opportunities from tourists. Seeing people from all over the world snapping pictures of each other with interactive pieces, Miller was inspired with the idea of an interactive permanent sculpture for Bristol. Miller brought her music-oriented concept back to Bristol, brain-stormed with artist Val Lyle, and Take the Stage became a reality!