Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Bronze Egyptian revival desk suite by Gustav Manz, circa 1921 (Private collection). Image Gustav Manz LLC

Established at the turn of the 19th century by Riccardo Bertelli, Roman Bronze Works was the first bronze foundry in the United States to devote its business to the lost-wax casting method—a process that offers a more exact replica of the artist's original work than any other. From its Brooklyn location and subsequent factory in Corona, Queens the foundry cast sculpture and decorative hardware (floor registers and door jambs, etc.) for virtually all of the architects, sculptors, and other metal artists associated with the American Renaissance, including artist-jeweler Gustav Manz (1865-1946).

In the late 1980s, Roman Bronze closed and its sculpture inventory was auctioned. The business archives—77 linear feet of them—were acquired in 1990 by the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth. At this time, records are not yet digitized, but an index of names culled from ledgers, account books, and client/customer index cards is searchable online. And the library staff welcome research queries (though serious data diving still requires an on-site visit). The scope of Manz's dealings with Roman Bronze may never be known—a good chunk of the foundry's records were destroyed when one of its Brooklyn buildings (275-289 Green Street) caught fire in 1921; additional records were lost during a later move to Queens. 

Bronze bulldog plaque signed by Manz, possibly cast at Roman Bronze Works, circa 1912
 (Private collection) 

In the early 1900s, when he was actively pursuing a career as a sculptor, Manz may have retained RBW to cast some of the statuary he would later exhibit at the National Arts Club. He would have been familiar with the foundry's scaled-down replicas of neoclassical sculpture and animal figures by Barye, and western vignettes by Remington; as a designer-manufacturer he may have ordered castings of artistic metalware he produced as a sideline to his jewelry.

Future delving in the archives may provide answers. 

But what a snapshot of an era just one page from a 1905 ledger provides! A record for Manz—who was by then residing in the Leonia artists' colony in northern New Jersey—abuts one for B.E. Dahlgren, chief model-maker (originally trained as a dentist) for the American Museum of Natural History, and later curator at the Field Museum in Chicago; as well as hardware vendor Henry Frank Jr.—whose mail-order catalogue stocked iron, brass and steel nuts and bolts, tools and other supplies for maritime, factory, railroad, plantation, and general contracting. These days, an art gallery occupies street level at 23 Warren Street, the cast-iron-fronted building where Frank conducted his hardware business—a reuse some of the neoclassical architects in RB's ledgers might have appreciated.


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Ledger image courtesy of Amon Carter Museum Library in Forth Worth

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