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In Capable Hands

Artist Donna Weaver selected
to create Woodfill bust

Her life-size creation is a testament to her talent

(October 2018) – Donna Weaver’s love of history shines through her art and passion for re-enactment. Growing up in northern Kentucky, she said she had good teachers who made history interesting. She loved learning about the past, and she loved art. She described her thoughts about art as a career choice, stating, “I had no grand aspirations of becoming rich.”
The Vevay, Ind., resident started in commercial art, creating action figures and dolls for Kenner Toys, which became Hasbro Toys. The engineers would determine what the action figures would be able to do, and it was her job to create a body that worked that way. She thought of those figures as items that probably were headed for the recycling bin, well-worn, cast-off toys. On the other hand, many old toys are now collector’s items today.

Photo provided

Donna Weaver works with her sculpture project at her home studio.

Next, she worked for Gibson Greeting cards. She loved creating the colors, shapes and designs for the cards. Some were even three-dimensional. She still thought of this work as disposable, not items someone would keep. That changed in 2000, with her new role as a sculptor-engraver creating low-relief coins for the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
The opportunity to work for the U.S. Mint was an opportunity to use her creative ideas and artistic skills to create something permanent. The Mint has a “fantastic history,” Weaver said. She was eager to have a more traditional use of her skills, working with precious metals to create commemorative coins. Those coins took an American history subject and interpreted it as an image.
“I never know which direction it will go,” she said. “Doors open to subjects you never know existed.”
Although she retired in 2006, she continues to design for the Mint through the Artistic Infusion Program. On Aug. 27, she participated in the release of the new Georgia State Quarter, designed for the America The Beautiful series. Her design represents the national seashore at Cumberland Island, with a snowy egret on a branch. She was able to actually visit the area and see first-hand the beauty of the salt marsh and seashore.
A previous significant achievement was Weaver’s selection as the designer of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial Medal. Titled, “Indiana Revealed,” the medal features a turning page, showing Indiana’s history as it evolved from the early years to more recent achievements.
Now a significant sculptor of Indiana’s history, Weaver was contacted in January 2018 by the Jefferson County (Ind.) Veteran’s Council to discuss sculpting a bust of Maj. Sam Woodfill. The bust is scheduled to be unveiled and dedicated Oct. 12 at the Indiana Veterans Cemetery in Madison, Ind.
This new opportunity was not only another chance to create permanent art, but also the opportunity to work in the round, creating a life-size sculpture. It was the brave actions of Indiana’s own Woodfill during World War I that lead to the end of the war.
For Weaver, this project was “fun to do, especially to recreate his medals and especially his medal of honor.” She kept her interpretation “not too tight or too loose;” just detailed enough to know what each medal was. She said she enjoyed working with the decorative patterns of the medals. After painstakingly crafting the clay model of the Woodfill bust, she sent it to Casting Arts and Technologies in Cincinnati to create the bronze version of the sculpture.
John Cline, owner of Casting Arts and Techno-logies, set up the business initially to do castings of his own sculptures. Now, 28 years later, his operation serves other artists.
Cline described Weaver saying, “She is very meticulous, with an eye for preparation.” The Woodfill sculpture, he said, “does not look like a vacuum molded piece. It is created to look like it has been there all the time. It is a very nicely rendered piece of sculpture.”
The casting process uses the “lost wax” process where the clay model is covered with wax and then a ceramic mold is made of the sculpture. When the mold is fired, the max melts out, and every detail is transferred to the ceramic mold, which is then filled with the molten metal. Large sculptures, like the Woodfill bust, are cast in several pieces and then welded together. The joints and seams finished carefully so that no seams are visible. The re-assembled, finished sculpture is then treated with heat and chemicals to create the desired patina. 
The advantage of the lost wax process is the level of detail that is captured. It is a precise replication of the details that the artist puts into a piece. The completed mold can be used to cast additional copies of the original.
In the case of Woodfill, the first Woodfill bust will be permanently installed at the Indiana Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery. But plans are developing to place copies of the bust in other significant locations. Including Indianapolis.
Woodfill will also be honored with a permanent exhibit at the Jefferson County (Ind.) History Center in downtown Madison. Executive Director John Nyberg noted that Weaver is an “amazingly talented artist.”
He described her work to save Musee de Venoge, an early Swiss two-story frame structure, circa 1812, in Switzerland County, as well as the Thiebaud Farm-stead. Both locations will be featured at the Rural Heritage Tour, scheduled for Oct. 6-7 near Vevay, Ind. Visitors will see Weaver participating there in her role as a “re-enactor” of history.
“Re-enacting is another way of learning and teaching,” Weaver said.
She has researched period clothing and made her own costumes. She looks for just the right fabric to recreate the styles of various time periods. For example, she said the 1820s featured a simple, high-waisted dress. Another part of her re-enactment is the creation of museum quality miniature wax portraits mounted on glass, replicating a 19th century craft. The wax portraits are available for purchase.

• More information on the Rural Heritage Tour is available from the Switzerland County Tourism at (812) 427-3237 or online at www.switzcotourism.com.

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