Founding Fathers Black Hills

Not always a pretty process


At Founding Fathers Black Hills, we’re convinced that the 47 life-size, original sculptures depicting many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence will be, once finished, beautiful to behold.

But getting there? Not so much.

The process of casting the hand-sculpted heads

in a resin that will then be painstakingly painted by hand is a messy one. It’s gooey. It’s slimey. It looks a little like a science experiment gone bad. It’s sort of gross.

Take, for example, the process of creating the head of William Williams, one of the 47 men in the famous “Declaration of Independence” painting by John Trumbull that will come to life at Founding Fathers Black Hills. Williams was a signer of the Declaration from Connecticut, and his sculpture happens to be the last one to be completed in what has been a years long process. The photographs you see here are of the Williams head in mid-process.

James Van Nuys works on a rubber mold of a Founding Fathers head.

James Van Nuys works on a rubber mold of a Founding Fathers head.

Sculpted in clay by Rapid City artist James Van Nuys, Williams’ head was then turned into a rubber mold by art assistant Julie Farrell. Using a brush-on molding agent, Farrell applied it, layer by layer, making sure each layer was dry before adding another layer, which was always in a contrasting color to ensure complete coverage of the head.

Once the rubber mold is dry, a tan-colored “mother mold” is layered on, allowed to dry and removed. The rubber mold is then slit up the back, creating an opening that will eventually make it possible to remove the finished resin head. The mold is then put back together, covered with the mother mold, and taped shut to hold everything in place during the casting process.

All that makes a mold that won’t leak once it is filled with a liquid resin that dries to a hard plastic-like surface and creates the head, face and hands ready for painting. Then the real fun begins, as Van Nuys, Farrell and Leah Nixon bring the gray resin heads to life as the 47 unique American patriots depicted in Trumbull’s painting.

Art. It isn't always pretty.

Art. It isn’t always pretty.