Wauna sculptor Mardie Rees feels blessed. Her most recent work, a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of St. Anne, was unveiled Nov. 30 at St. Anne Hospital in Burien. It took more than a year from the initial sketches to the unveiling.
“You have to have grit,” Rees said. “Sculpting is not your usual profession.”
St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, is the patron of unmarried women, housewives, grandmothers, mothers and educators. Rees said that typical depictions of St. Anne are a young woman holding a child. Rees uses live models and the committee from St. Anne wanted her to use Sister Anne, a nun active in the church community and 80 years old. Rees was drawn to the image of the saint as a storyteller and presented drawings and small clay “sketches” to the committee for consideration. An image of St. Anne seated with a scroll in hand was selected.
Creating a bronze sculpture through the lost wax technique involves many steps, each taking time, skill and technology that is ancient but includes modern adaptations.
Rees first sculpted a maquette, a clay sculpture about 18 inches tall, that would serve as the template for the full-sized work. A model sat for many hours as Rees finalized the basic figure and drape of the clothes. Sister Anne then sat for about another 30 hours total as Rees perfected the details of her hands, feet and face.
A full-sized foam form was milled using the maquette template. Rees assembled and adjusted the form as needed and then applied a one- to two-inch layer of oil clay – a type of clay that will not dry – to the surface. Over the next seven months, Rees sculpted and shaped the clay to complete the final form.
The clay sculpture was then shipped to a foundry for casting, a process that took about three months.
The clay sculpture was covered with a layer of silicone, the silicone was removed in sections and each piece was encased with plaster so that it would hold its shape. Then wax was poured into the silicone molds to coat the internal surface, forming hollow full-sized sections of the sculpture. These were removed from the silicone mold, inspected for imperfections, and then dipped in a ceramic material that hardened into a shell. The wax melted, replaced by molten bronze.
Once the bronze cooled the shell was removed, creating hollow bronze sections. The sections were welded together, and the sculpture was ready for its final finishing touches, including removing imperfections, sandblasting and heating the surface with a torch before applying the chemicals to achieve its patina finish.
Rees knew as a teenager that she wanted to be an artist. Her father was a framer and there was a long tradition of tailors and seamstresses on her mother’s side of the family. She spent her childhood sewing, building and drawing. After attending Minter and Purdy Elementary Schools, she was homeschooled during middle school. “I was an artistic kid and didn't fit the mold,” she said. In 1995, when she was 15, the family moved to Ecuador for three years as part of a community development program.
Art classes at an international school in Quito settled her future. “I had an incredible art teacher,” Rees said. “There comes a point where you really want to do art, that there is no other option. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
The family returned to Wauna and she completed her senior year at Gig Harbor High School.
Rees always had a passion for figurative art, and she wanted to dive into creating it as soon as possible but also wanted to stay on the West Coast. She decided that Laguna College of Art and Design was the best choice for the kind of training she wanted. After taking a portrait sculpting class her freshman year she never looked back.
“I wasn’t necessarily amazing, but I loved it,” Rees said. “I felt more at home sculpting than I did painting, and I wanted to do something challenging that could be a gift to the world and was something different.”
Her senior project, Samaritan Woman, was a high relief project in clay and it led to her first commission, the life-sized St. Anthony and Child installed in the lobby of St. Anthony Hospital in 2009. Other commissions include pieces located at the outdoor pavilion at Skansie Brother’s Park, the St. Anthony medical campus in Westminster, Colorado, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
She has won the Beverly Hoyt Richard Award, an award recognizing young sculptors through the National Sculpture Society, twice.
Rees lives and works in a house on the same property where she grew up. Her parents bought 3 acres and built their first house in the early 1980s when Rees was a toddler. Her mother lives in the second home built on the property and Rees and her husband, Jeremey Broderick, an architect, designed and built their own home next door in 2013. Broderick works for a firm in Gig Harbor but he is also integral to her work, helping with installations and structural issues with the bigger pieces. They have three children, ages 7, 12 and 14.
“This is a peaceful, beautiful place to be inspired,” Rees said. “I love being outside. I love to work in my garden.”
Much of Rees’ work is commissioned by organizations or individuals, but she also shows work at Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe. “I have to play around a lot,” she said. “If I just focus on the commission work I will dry up.” And for a break, she will draw or paint. “It is nice to have something you can actually finish in a reasonable amount of time.”
She can’t rest on her laurels, however. The foam model for her next commission, St. Elizabeth of Hungary for Enum-claw Hospital, is in her studio ready for assembly and a layer of oil clay. “I am a little tired already, thinking about it,” Rees said.
To see more of Rees’ work visit her website www.mardierees.com.
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