EASTPORT, Maine — Dressed from head to toe in protective gear, bronze sculptor Richard Klyver shuts down the roaring propane and opens up the kiln.
It takes two men to carefully lift the carbide steel vessel inside with metal tongs. They slowly begin to pour the 2,300-degree molten bronze into hand-crafted molds.
Heat waves and the glow of the melted metal make the air shimmer and the magic begins: The molten bronze begins to harden, filling each nook and cranny of the mold, refining and bringing into focus each tiny detail. In an hour or two, the pieces — in this case running dogs — can be removed from the molds.
“This is my favorite moment, when you de-shell the mold and you see the bronze. It is like Christmas,” Klyver said.
Is anyone surprised that a world-class bronze sculptor is pouring molds in the backyard of a tiny studio in Eastport? Certainly not Klyver.
His studio is one of dozens — potters, watercolorists, painters, sculptors, fiber artists — that are tucked on the back roads and byways in the Eastport area.
In the summer, tourists flock to downtown Eastport, which boasts a half-dozen galleries on Main Street alone, and artists from around the world rent cottages or stay at local inns, and set up their easels around town.
“Down East is the best place I’ve ever been in terms of an artist’s working environment,” Klyver asserts. “There are two places that artists tend to congregate: in the middle of a big city and at land’s end. The Eastport-Lubec area is teeming with spectacular artists.”
Klyver said the artists Down East are “here for very genuine reasons. Not for the money. This is an extremely creative place for artists to work. Eastport is becoming an incredible artists’ colony.”
The winters provide a good time for reflection and long stretches of time can be used to focus on art projects, Klyver said.
“Eastport is just in the first stages of blooming in all aspects of the arts — performing as well as visual. More and more artists are relocating here and many are staying year-round.”
Klyver, 69, came to Eastport from New York City in 1974 to visit some friends. He returned every summer and moved Down East permanently in 2005. He established his studio in a tiny home on Prince Street, where shelves of his works line the walls, bronze heads are imbedded in an outdoor stone wall and a bronze sea serpent winds out of a small pond that will be the centerpiece of a future sculpture garden.
Most of his work reflects animals and people in motion.
“I’m obsessed with wild animals and the female figure in motion,” he said. “I love that sense of air, of movement.”
Klyver has traveled the world in search of subjects for his bronzes: Africa, Madagascar, Brazil and Mexico. From 1996 to 2005, Klyver was the Artist in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania. His bronzes are on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Yale Peabody Museum and in many private collections.
After 40 years of waiting, however, he now has his own foundry. He said there are a handful of other foundries in Maine but they are sand foundries.
Klyver’s process begins with a detailed carving in wax, which is then covered in many layers of a thin, silica slurry. Each layer of the slurry is allowed to harden — that becomes the mold — and the wax is burned away.
“I do the lost wax method,” he said. “I’ve done five pourings already and they are coming out quite well.”
His studio bears witness: women spinning on one toe in a wild cancan dance, deer in a full, leg-stretched run, a group of dogs chasing a boar, four monkeys crossing a stream on a log, dolphins rising from the sea.
He currently is working on a four-foot diameter birdbath with dancing bronze figures inside the bowl.
“I cannot do what I want to do with any other medium,” Klyver said. “You can do so much with bronze.”
One of the things he intends to do is create a sculpture walk in downtown Eastport. He envisions a garden, flanked by arches at each end that contain dozens of bronze sea creatures — some real, some mythical, and some Passamaquoddy legends. A stone wall will flank the garden and bronze creatures also will be part of the wall.
“It will be a real draw,” he said. Klyver is in the process of securing financial backing for the project.
Public art is a natural part of the area, he said. “I know that many visitors are already drawn to Eastport because of the many artists here. This garden will become a showcase.”
“Art is really about feeling,” Klyver said. “This is what we are about — feelings. Art addresses that. In that sense, art is one of the most important things in our lives.”
When people see Klyver’s bronzes — which focus on motion — they get a feeling of elation, he said. “That is what I am trying to do, create that emotion from the art’s motion.”
Klyver offers classes for beginners and experts in sculpting, motion and animation, mold making, and casting in bronze and pewter.