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VOL 3. NO. 39 Monday, November 19 - Sunday, December 3, 2001
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John P. Beckley
Taking Bronze Casting Into the New Millennium
By Avonie BROWN
John P. Beckley at work
As the hands of the clock moved towards midnight on December 31, 1999, John P. Beckley, inventor of the Melting Pot™, a metal melting furnace, stood ready. With drums beating and the rhythmic sounds of bamboo instruments intensifying with every passing second, there was no denying that this was a very unique New Year's Eve celebration. A small group of 15 had gathered at Brad Silberberg's Silver Spring studio (Bradley Metal Design), to witness the first bronze pour of the new millennium.

At precisely 00:00:01 Jan. 1, 2000 Beckley poured white hot bronze into a prepared mold. The resulting sculpture is an eight inches high abstract image of a mother and child, appropriately titled "Millenni."

It stands to reason that Beckley would choose to mark the Y2K with a bronze pour. From our first meeting during a Kwanzaa event in 1995, his enthusiasm for his work has been undeniable and infectious. Then he spoke with unrelenting passion about his new invention, the Melting Pot™ and the African culture that inspired both his creative sojourn and innovation. Using the Melting Pot Beckley is able to create treasures that draw on over 6000 thousand of years of African artistry and ingenuity.

"What I'm doing now is virtually the same technique handed down from African communities hundreds of years old," said the alumni of Howard University's College of Pharmacy. In fact, Benin metal workers still cast using only the most rudimentary equipment, beeswax, clay and fire.

Beckley's near reverential discussion of the beauty that is produced by this seemingly unsophisticated method, in part explains his quest to preserve and promote our knowledge and understanding of the history of bronze casting. But Beckley has also added his own creative drive and intelligence to the process. After spending over 30 years as a pharmacist, he turned his focused commitment and determination to researching, designing and building an `electric pot' that significantly reduces the time, cost and mystery of casting.

He again took advantage of existing technology in the design of his `electric pot.' He reasoned that since NASA is able to insulate a space shuttle that experiences extreme temperatures, an `electric pot' that melts bronze is possible.

"I simply got on the phone and called them (NASA) up and asked them about their insulation and they told me who their contractor was...then I called them up and asked some more questions...I went straight to the people that had the information," said Beckley.

He experimented with various designs and ultimately perfected a furnace which is lightweight, safe, easy to use and melts metal in a very short period of time.

In 1996 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent on Beckley's design for the Melting Pot™. Today the Mitchellville, Md.-based company, Melting Pot International, Inc., manufactures and sells the furnace.

With this one invention Beckley has revolutionized the casting process. What once took more than one week to complete, can now be streamlined for completion in mere hours.

To hear John explain the process, and then to see it's simple execution, as I was privileged to do, leads me to believe that even I, given a creative vision and patience, could create my own masterpiece in bronze.

First your vision must be transferred to a creation in wax; this `waxed' art-piece is then coated in a plaster type material that will ultimately form the mold. This coated form is then subjected to 1500 degrees (F) of intense heat. The heat not only melts and burns out the wax, but it also hardens the plaster, completing the formation of the mold.

Bronze works by Beckley
Next the Melting Pot™ is used to melt the bronze; it is able to melt about 10 pounds of bronze in approximately one hour. Bronze melts at about 2000 degree (F). The molten bronze is then poured into the mold. As the molten bronze cools it hardens, assuming the shape of the mold. When the metal cools, the mold is broken away from the metal and your creative vision is now a bronze masterpiece.

It is this simplicity and ease that makes the Melting Pot™ a much sought after invention by metal artisans. The Melting Pot™ is very lightweight allowing for portability, plugs into any 20 amp/120 volt household electrical socket and is so well insulated that it is not much hotter than a boiling kettle on top of a stove (about 350 degrees), said Beckley.

"I can pack this up, load it in my car and take it with me without any problem," said Beckley beaming. "It is simple enough that a teacher can use the system to teach his/her students in a class room/studio setting both the art of casting metal and the necessary discipline and obvious safety procedures that must be observed," he added.

Beckley's own extensive collection of his own creations is in keeping with his focus on the integrity of the art form and not with mass producing for profit. He works not on demand but only when inspired. He said that his inspirations often come from such mundane things as a shampoo bottle or the broken spring on his front door.

Excitedly Beckley declared, "I often create art forms which seem to be completely unrelated to the object or circumstances which inspired me in the first place. I cannot explain it. I can only accept it and be grateful. I've done pieces that I still don't know from whence they came."

This refusal to allow others to compromise his personal artistic statement, is refreshing and encouraging. He suggests that the only rule that guides his creative process is his continuing search for ways to express Africa's art and culture.

While the dawn of the new millennium opens up a new and exciting chapter in Beckley's creative journey, the story did not begin here. Instead it stands on the shoulders of the over 6000 year old history of casting metal, and metalsmithing. And, if John P. Beckley has his way this story will never end . . . For information on Beckley's artwork or the Melting Pot™ email meltingpot@aol.com.

To comment on this or any other story email editor@metroconnection.info.

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