Bronze metalist: Lawyer by day, Cecil Humphreys casts artistic side in sculpture
- reprinted from the Commercial Appeal
- By Stacey Wiedower
- Posted July 17, 2009 at 12:05 a.m.
The lavatory countertop features sculptural fixtures formed of cast bronze. The faucet is the head of a lioness, flanked by two lambs that serve as handles — a Biblical reference.
The artistic installation was created through the lost-wax method of bronze casting, an ancient technique that is resurrected in the work of Memphis artist and attorney Cecil Humphreys.
In life, as well as in art, Humphreys blends professionalism and polish with a penchant for creativity.
As a fine arts major in his undergraduate days at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Humphreys — son of former University of Memphis president Cecil C. Humphreys — explored his interest in painting and printmaking.
He followed up his fine arts studies with law school, earning a degree from the institution now named for his father, the U of M’s Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Today, Humphreys works for Memphis law firm Glankler Brown by day, maintaining a general business practice.
At night and on weekends, however, Humphreys spends much of his time in his Highland Street studio, home of BronzeWorks by Cecil Humphreys (online at cecilhumphreys.com). From that studio, a converted former garage, he creates cast bronze bowls and sculptures found in high-end homes throughout the Memphis area and beyond.
“I create my pieces the same way it was done 3,000 years ago,” Humphreys said. “The only difference is the materials have gotten a little better.”
Humphreys found his way to lost-wax bronze casting after learning of a foundry in Earle, Ark., owned by a friend’s brother-in-law. He wanted to create a large, bronze bowl, so he asked the foundry owner how to get started.
“He took me through the process,” Humphreys said. “I made the bowl, and I got carried away.”
Today, Humphreys works through Lugar Foundry in Eads, Tenn., to create works ranging from bowls of all sizes to elaborate sculpture gardens, often installed — as with the Loeb home — in powder rooms as artistic elements.
“The foundry does my casting and the owners, Larry and Andrea Lugar, have been invaluable,” Humphreys said. “I’m lucky to have a world-class art foundry just down the road.”
The pieces Humphreys creates for clients are custom and one of a kind. In addition to the lion-and-lamb installation he produced for the Loeb family, Humphreys completed an elaborate forest on the lavatory countertop in the Germantown home of friends, who are avid hunters.
The scene includes a copper basin on cedar posts with bronze fixtures surrounded by bronze tree sculptures. The trough-style faucet is a bronze log; two bronze wild turkeys serve as handles.
“People tend to cram a lot of decorative elements in places like powder rooms, because you can make a high impact in a small space,” Humphreys said. “I like doing sinks and fixtures. They’re for a specific location and they’re made for people I know or get to know, and they’re made with their interests and aesthetic in mind.”
Whether creating an elaborate sculpture garden or a simple, elegant bowl, Humphreys uses the painstakingly exacting method first employed in Egypt and China more than 5,000 years ago.
To create pieces using this method, the original form is thrown on a wheel or sculpted by hand in clay. A flexible rubber mold is formed around the original clay piece, then encased in plaster to help the rubber mold retain its shape. The mold is cured, then split open, revealing the original piece.
The mold then is reassembled and hot wax is poured into the space created when the original piece is removed. Once cooled, a wax sculpture of the original piece is formed. A furnace is used to melt the wax out of its shell, and molten bronze is poured into the resulting ceramic mold, which contains a perfect negative impression of the original sculpture.
When the bronze cools, the ceramic mold is broken away and the bronze casting is revealed. Finally, acids and chemicals are applied to add color to the piece, and the finished sculpture is waxed and polished.
It’s a labor-intensive process, but worth the effort for the precise detail achieved, Humphreys said.
His bowls, available through the artist locally and through high-end design showrooms across the United States, range in price from $3,000 to $18,000. Most retail in the $3,000 to $6,000 range, Humphreys said.
He enjoys creating the bowls, which, he said, have become more intricate as he has developed his art. But he especially enjoys creating the custom pieces that have evolved from his earlier work.
Bob Loeb enjoys the unique, personal touch Humphreys’ work adds to his home.
“Cecil is a lifelong friend of mine and I admire his work and enjoy it by itself, but knowing that it’s a creation of a friend of mine makes it special.”
_Stacey Wiedower is a home and design writer and a staff designer at Memphis-based Virginia Rippee & Associates Interior Design. Read more from her at designinsider.blogspot.com. _
Photo by Chris Desmond/Special to The Commercial Appeal