Working with molten metal and kilns and furnaces that burn over 2500°F isn't an everyday occurrence for most. For sculptor Steve Lillegard, it's just another good day at work.
WQW: Bronze is such a beautiful and fascinating medium. How did you begin to work with it?
Steve: I used to make sculptures out of plaster, wax, and clay but didn't consider it as a career until I went to a showing by an artist working in bronze. Then I decided to give it a try. My inspiration comes from a lot of places — real-life observations, books, and experiences; how people and animals move and how they are put together; and how they change as they move. I try to depict things in my work honestly, so I study nature to recreate it as well as I can.
WQW: What inspired you to get into this line of work?
Steve: My mother was an inspiration. She was an artist and went to art school in Boston. She made opportunities to visit museums on the East Coast, where I was exposed to some really good art.
WQW: What is your favorite and most challenging part of casting bronze?
Steve: The most challenging part is making sure the temperatures are correct. If it's too hot, it shrinks in the wrong places causing jagged cavities. If it's too cold, small parts don't fill.
WQW: Can you tell us about your foundry and studio?
Steve: The foundry is outside and pretty primitive. I built the kiln and the furnace in about 1981. The kiln that I burn wax out is a piece of 3ft diameter culvert that I insulated with a high-temp insulation and can withstand temperatures over 2500 degrees. The furnace that I melt bronze is built similarly but made from a 55-gallon drum. Besides propane, I use used motor oil and cooking oil for fuel, so there are containers for them. The studio is fairly large and open and gets pretty cluttered. There are a lot of steps to any project, and I'm working on several at a time, so I end up with a number of projects in different stages in the process.
WQW: Are you able to share about any projects in the making right now?
Steve: I'm working on a quick finish for Warriors & Quiet Waters.
WQW: As the excitement for Taste Fest draws near, can you tell us about what it's like working on a piece in front of others?
Steve: I've participated in 20 or 30 quickdraws or finishes. I prepare by starting my piece well in advance, so I'm comfortable showing it. I used to draw caricatures and portraits in fairs and malls. I was nervous until I realized that people aren't watching to judge but out of curiosity and a source of entertainment. Now, it's fun for me, and I enjoy talking to people who are watching.
WQW: What does partnering with Warriors & Quiet Waters for Warrior Taste Fest mean to you?
Steve: I turned 18 at the end of the Vietnam War. I would have gone if drafted, but I didn't volunteer. My father was a WWII veteran, my brother was a military doctor, and my sister served. I had never heard of Warrior Taste Fest, as it is several hours away from me. Jim McCray, who grew up in Geyser, about 16 miles away, was familiar with my participation in a quick finish in Stanford and asked if I would consider being involved. I enjoy working with non-profits that are involved in a worthwhile cause. There isn't one more worthwhile than Warriors & Quiet Waters. People involved in organizations like this are hard-working and fun and a pleasure to work with.
This blog was written by Marianne Gilman, a WQW Volunteer. Steve Lillegard is a 2021 artist participant for Warrior Taste Fest's quick finish. Buy your tickets to Warrior Taste Fest now (while they last) and have the opportunity to bid on Steve's finished piece to take home.