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Howard Hitchcock with artwork

Above left: Dr. Howard Hitchcock with "A Globe Divided," Bronze/Walnut, 2001; And "Sunset Towers," Acrylic On Canvas, 1999. Above right, top: HItchcock's Sculpture, "Darkening Tower," Bronze, 2001. Above right, bottom: Detail Of "God Save The Prince II," Bronze, 1983.

A LIFE CAST IN BRONZE

By Rick Manly

 After 32 years as a CSULB art faculty member, Howard Hitchcock continues his creative involvement with bronze casting through an exhibition of his signature bronze towers at the Sandstone Gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif. 

 "The current show represents a collection of bronze towers created over more than 20 years," explained the Huntington Beach resident. "The vertical shapes stem primarily from the tall, but narrow, space inside the burnout kiln I fashioned from a 55-gallon drum to use in our (CSULB) campus foundry. A second influence, perhaps, may have been lasting impressions of the urban landscape when I went to New York City to study, after growing up in a small town."  

Although the interplay of form and space is a major concern in his work, his bronzes visually address the human condition--relationships and stresses that most of us experience at some time in our lives mixed with elements of wit and ambiguity. 

The retired professor creates his cast bronze sculptures using ceramic shell molds, a process originally developed for aircraft manufacturing. He learned of this new approach to a 6,000-year-old process in 1964 and was intrigued by its potential for sculptors. “I remember receiving a small grant from the campus research committee to investigate ways to adapt this technique for individual use and eventually petitioned to offer a course in ceramic shell casting, which I taught until retirement in 1990,” he said. 

Hitchcock crafts a model in wax and takes it to a foundry, where a ceramic mold is formed around it by dipping it repeatedly in a fused silica slurry to form a thin shell. It is then placed in a hot kiln, the wax is flushed out and molten bronze is poured into the mold. After the mold is broken away, Hitchcock does the finishing work to complete the sculpture. “If the piece is small enough to fit in the kitchen oven, I sometimes apply the patina at home,” he laughed.  

When Hitchcock arrived on campus in 1958, there were only about 5,000 students but already 15 faculty members in the Art Department. “By the early 1970s, when I served a term as department chair, we had 50 full-time and 50 part-time faculty members with around 1,500 art majors,” he said. “The diversity of our programs and the professionalism of both faculty members and students were very high, and I continue to be very proud to have been involved in such a strong department.” 

Hitchcock received his MFA from the University of Washington, Seattle. He worked initially in wood and clay, but after encountering ceramic shell casting, he has used it for his sculpture ever since. When no text could be found for his class, he wrote one: Out of the Fiery Furnace: Casting Sculpture from Ceramic Shell Molds.

He has exhibited his work throughout the U.S. and in Mexico and Japan. Currently, his sculpture is also being shown at the Anderson Gallery in Sunset Beach, Calif., and the Lanning Gallery in Sedona, Ariz. In 1989, he was selected as Huntington Beach Artist of the Year and is included in Who’s Who in American Art

Hitchcock was glad he made his career commitment to CSULB, but it was not without certain risks. He notes that bronze has to be heated to 2,000 degrees for pouring. “Bronze pours are exciting, as anyone who has attended one can attest, but yes, they can also be dangerous, and my wife was happy to have that end.”

Hitchcock still finds much pleasure and satisfaction in creating bronzes as well as in meeting former students who are pursuing artistic careers after taking his classes.