Colette Beers loves process. Starting with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western New Mexico University (WNMU) in 2015, followed by an MBA in 2018 she promptly decided it wasn’t for her and decided she would rather follow her passion to create and became a sculptress.
And so it was that she and three other artists who have educational roots at WNMU not only founded a silver City gallery, Made in Silver City, but have found themselves commissioned to create bronze memorials on campus. The first one is “The Ice Cream Girls,” of a full-sized girl and an ice cream cone which can be found at the bottom of the steps in front of Bowden Hall on campus.
The newest piece though, commemorates nurse and former WNMU faculty member Pam Kuthe. Kuthe retired from WNMU in 2007 and passed away in 2020. She was recognized as a “Nursing Legend” by the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence, and she was pivotal in establishing the modern nursing program at WNMU.
The other members of the Made in Silver City team are Chelsea Boone, who earned a BFA in 2016; Maurice Camacho earned the same degree in 2019; and Michael Metcalf who is a Professor of Sculpture in the Department of Expressive Arts.
The sculptors use the lost-wax process to create their public art projects in bronze. Beers said from start to finish it’s a ton of work but worth it (and a good price) in the end.
“There is something really special about knowing something you made will last that long,” Beers said. “Some of these last 2,000-something years. The lost-wax process is the same as from pre-Roman times only we have way better material.”
First you make your sculpture out of clay over an armature of wire, wood and metal, she said. Then you choose where she’s going to be cut apart in playing cards to mark the spaces; put a rubber mold all over her; then a hard plastic or plaster mold around that; pour wax into the rubber mold, which creates a wax replica. After cleaning up the wax pieces, you build a structure made from wax onto the wax pieces of screws and an embedded cup ends up beginning the plumbing for the bronze.
“We do the bronze casting at WNMU,” Beers said. “I think for a small university, it’s really cool that we get to use it. One of the reasons I came to this university was the capability to pour bronze there.”
Then there is another molding process where you dip the wax pieces in slurry and about 15 coats of silica sand in different coarseness from fine to course; that gets fired in a furnace which melts the wax out and fires the shell so it can withstand the bronze. Finally, you pour molten bronze into those pieces and bust her out and weld her back together. Sanding and grinding out the seams
“Every step is an adventure in problem solving and figuring out what to do next,” Beers said. “Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. I think that’s part of the fun of it.”
Now a life-sized bronze Kuthe sits on one of the purple benches at WNMU, dedicated in May for Nurses Month. She sits on the front porch of the School of Nursing Building. In her hands she holds her beloved Grey’s Anatomy.
Beers said the book is part of Kuthe’s story.
“When she was in nursing school in the she was struggling with anatomy and physiology, so her aunties got her a copy of Grey’s Anatomy and she carried it with her everywhere,” she said. “So, we used this book as a model and we made our own spine that says “Grey’s Anatomy, 1972 edition, and with our names on it like we are the authors. So that’s how we signed our work this time.”