Glossary of Terms

A rigid framework, often wood or steel, used to support a sculpture or other large work while it is being made.
Artist’s Proof
A copy or reproduction, it is outside the numbered copies of the limited edition but may be numbered with the prefix AP. By custom, the artist retains the APS for his/her personal use or sale and does not put an edition number on them. Sometimes artist's proofs are regarded as having more value, especially if they are the first prints pulled off non-lithographic plates before the plates were worn down. Source: Kimberley Reynolds, "Illustrated Dictionary of Art Terms"
Three-dimensional or sculptural work, it is the media counterpart of collage, which is two-dimensional. It composed of non-art materials, often found objects that are seemingly unrelated but when 'assembled', create a unity. It originated with the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and George Braque, who, in 1913, made the first Assemblage, which was a guitar made of sheet metal. Peter Selz and William Seitz, curators at the Museum of Modern Art, created the name in 1961 with an exhibition of objects they titled "The Art of Assemblage". American Assemblage artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, Edward Kienholz, Lee Bontecou, Escobar Marisol, Richard Stankiewicz, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Pierre Arman and Red Grooms. Sources: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"; Robert Atkins, "Art Speak"; AskART database.
Bas Relief
Sculpture in which figures project only slightly from a background, as on a coin, it is also known as low relief sculpture. Among Bas Relief American Sculptors are Marguerite Blasingame, Janet Scudder,Rene Chambellan, William Couper, William Couper, James Earle Fraser, Achille Perelli and Robert Graham. Sources: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"; AskART database
An alloy of copper and tin, sometimes containing small proportions of other elements such as zinc or phosphorus. It is stronger, harder, and more durable than brass, and has been used extensively since antiquity for cast sculpture. When used correctly, it will "replicate a three-dimensional model with such exactness that details as subtle as the artist's fingerprints can be reproduced." (Conner, 157) During the 19th century in Europe and America, bronze and marble were equally popular in sculpture, but bronze took precedence in the 20th century because it required less hard labor for the sculptor, did not require a huge staff of artisans, was more durable when finished, and could be reproduced without much additional attention from the sculptor. Bronze alloys vary in color from a silvery hue to a rich, coppery red. Today U.S. standard bronze is composed of 90% copper, 7% tin, and 3% zinc. From 1800 BC bronze has been one of the more useful materials to humanity. The Egyptians, Greeks and Persians used it extensively, and Florence, Italy under the rule of the Medici family, became a center for bronze casting. The name is likely derived from the Italian word "bruno" or brown. The earliest casting method for bronze was pouring the hot liquid into a design cut in stone. Sand molds were used for simple objects, and the Greeks pioneered methods of making large pieces repeatedly from an original model. In the 19th century, a method of bronze electrotyping was devised for making exact copies of antique and others sculptures. Bronze foundries were set up at Naples for making reproductions of statuary excavated at Pompeii, and the copies became popular items in Victorian-style homes in the late 19th century. In Paris, methods were developed for adding color to bronze, which unaltered had a golden-brown coloration that eventually became dark. Additional zinc added golden tones; lead added a blue-grey tint; tin and silver in high content imparted a black patina; and mercury was used for gilding, but that process proved poisonous. Unearthed bronzes vary in coloration depending upon the composition of the soil, and ones found underwater have an olive-green color and hard surface if they have been submerged for long periods. American sculptors known for work in bronze include Frederick Remington, Charles Russell, David Smith, William Zorach, Harriet Frishmuth, Glenna Goodacre, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Paul Manship, James Earle Fraser and Daniel Chester French. Sources: Greta Elena Couper, "An American Sculptor on the Grand Tour"; Janis Conner and Thayer Tolles, 'Double Take', "The Magazine Antiques", November 2006.
Painting plaster casts so they appear to be made from bronze. A finish called Vert Antique is the substance commonly used to achieve the effect of a bronze with patina. Source: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"
Sculpture terms for a person (carver) or process (carving), it involved incising a hard material such as wood, varieties of stones, and metal into a form and the resulting shape. Among fine-art specialists, the finished piece is usually referred to as sculpture rather than carving unless it is by a naive or amateur artist. However, some contemporary sculptors are referring to themselves as Carvers. Cutting tools used by Carvers include hammers, mallets, chisels, knives, points and adzes. During the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo did his own marble carving, usually working alone from a sketch of one-tenth size. Sculptors working with marble such as the neo-classical American sculptors in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had studio assistants who, working from the design of the sculptor, did most of the actual stonework or carving. In America, some of the earliest wood carvers were church decorators such as early 19th century Jose Aragon of New Mexico and Norwegian-American Herbjorn Gausta. William Rush who lived in Pennsylvania in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was noted for his carved wood figureheads for ships. Among folk artists is a strong tradition of direct carving such as Henry Church who did rock carving, and Sulton Rogers of Mississippi, who did fanciful and sometimes erotic woodcarvings. Twentieth-century fine-art sculptors whose names are associated with stone, wood, and metal carving include Gaston Lachaise, who worked with marble and alabaster as well as bronze; Nicolai Fechin, who carved primitive-looking wood figures; and Louise Nevelson, whose signature work is carved wood assemblages. Likely the most famous name in American art linked to carving is Gutzom Borglum, who designed and oversaw the creation of the Presidents carved from the rock at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Sometimes referenced as “sculpture with dynamite” (Samuels 58), it remains one of the most massive carvings in this country. Comparable in size, however, might be the work of sculptors known for Earthworks, carvings into the earth to alter natural environment such as the efforts of Michael Heizer or Robert Smithson. Sources: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"; Greta Elena Couper, “An American Sculptor on the Grand Tour”; Masayo Duus, "The Life of Isamu Noguchi"; Harold and Peggy Samuels, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West”; AskART database
A method used by sculptors, it allows them to make copies of their work by using materials such as clay, metal or plastic; placing the material in a mold; and allowing it to harden so that it takes on the shape of the confining mold. Sources: Kimberley Reynolds & Richard Seddon, "Illustrated Dictionary of Art Terms";
An earthy material that is malleable or easily shaped when moist but hard when fired, it is composed primarily of fine particles of hydrous aluminum silicates and other minerals. Clay is used for brick, tile, pottery, ceramics and the initial shaping of much sculpture that is ultimately cast in bronze. Source: "Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary"
Fine Art
A term traditionally applied to visual expression that is created for aesthetic significance, it is distinct from craft or applied art, which has practical use. Included are architecture, music, painting, and sculpture. However, those distinctions are not so clear in contemporary art, which pushes those boundaries. The modern notion of 'fine art' can be traced back to the Renaissance when there was a strong movement, led by Leonardo da Vinci, to demonstrate that the painter in particular was practicing an intellectual and not a manual skill. Sources: Julia Ehresmann, "The Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms; Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques".
Heating pottery or sculpture in a kiln or open fire, the purpose is to harden the clay permanently and fuse the enamel to the piece. The temperature needed to mature the clay varies with the type of body used. Source: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"
A factory where sculpture made from metal castings is finalized, the facility turns metals into parts "by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal in a mold, and removing the mold material" after it is solid. The molded material is the sculpture. Source:
Galvanized Metal
Usually iron or steel and used in welded sculpture, it is coated with electroplated zinc so it is resistant to weather. Source: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"
Kinetic Art
A term descriptive of movement, either mechanical, hand or natural, it is usually applied to sculpture including mobiles and stabiles. Kinetic Art was first used in 1913 as an art form in reference to work by Dada artist, Marcel Duchamp, who placed a spinning bicycle wheel on a stool and called it sculpture. Other 20th-century names associated with kineticism are Alexander Calder, Yaacov Agam and George Rickey. In 1955 an exhibition, “Le Mouvement,” in Paris put kinetic art on the map by showcasing motion-conscious work of Duchamp, Calder, Jean Tinguely, and Victor Vasarely. Today, the method includes work with lasers, computers and other high-tech methods. Source: Robert Atkins, "Art Speak"; Robert Breer AskART biography
Limited Edition
A controlled or set number of copies, it applies to literature and art, and in art is a term related to copies of two and three dimensional works. Once the 'limit' of copies is determined, the plate, mold, or die is thrown away---an assurance of uniqueness to collectors. The practice of making limited editions originated with etchings and drypoint because increased use on the plates created wear that led to decreased quality of work. Source: Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"
Lost Wax Method
A method used to make sculpture that dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, it involves the creation of an original piece, usually in clay, and a foundry where the following process occurs: 1)A plaster mold is made of the original. 2)A gelatin mold is made from the plaster mold. 3)The inside of the gelatin mold is coated with molten wax to form a hollow wax mold that is packed with sand. 4)The sculptor can touch up or correct the piece. 5)Rods of wax are attached to the wax model. 6)The entire figure is covered in heat resistant plaster or clay. 7)Metal pins are inserted to keep the object in place. 8)The whole structure is placed in an oven and baked until the plaster mold has become dry, and the hot wax has been released through the vents created by the melting of the wax rods. 9)The mold is then packed in sand. 10)Bronze is poured through vents in the space left by the melted or lost wax. 11)Cooled, the cast is shed of the inner sand. 12)It is cleaned and finished. Source: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"
In sculpture, it is a small-scale model in wax or clay, made as a preliminary sketch or prototype of the planned finished work. If the proposed completed work was a commission or competition piece, the "maquette" was often presented to the client or the competition judges for decisions before further work was done. Maquettes have become collectible, especially if by well-known artists, and one of the museums specializing collecting them is the Museo dei Bozzetti in Pietrasanta, Italy. Sources: with permission of Michael Delahunt;
A limestone of high quality, it ranges from granular to compact in texture and is capable of taking high polish. Marble is used especially in architecture and sculpture, and Carrara marble, a pure white stone, from the Appenine Mountains in Carrara, Italy is regarded by many sculptors as the finest in the world. Donatello, Michelangelo and Antonio Canova used Carrara marble for their masterpieces during the Renaissance in Italy. Nineteenth and twentieth-century American sculptors noted for marble carving include Isamu Noguchi, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Hiram Powers, Thomas Crawford, Hezekiah Augur and Edmonia Lewis. Sources:; database; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
The material used to create a work of art, it can include the binder for paint such as oil and other properties for painting, sculpture and conceptual art such as pastel, watercolor, bronze, aluminum, marble, found objects, mixed media, etc. Source: AskART
A defined space to honor a person, event, or concept, the word is derived from the Latin "monere", meaning to remind. Monuments are reminders of collective values, beliefs and traditions, and often focus on the mysteries of life such as death and war and deities. Monuments that make the most lasting impressions tend to have compelling balance between architecture, sculpture and location such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in Washington DC. In Western history, religious expression was the first incentive for building monuments and included ziggurats (built on a platform), pyramids, obelisks, domes, columns and allegorical and representational sculpture. Twentieth-century monument builders sometimes depart from these traditions by using abstract sculpture, gardens, or unadorned space to encourage contemplation such as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Americans noted for monument sculpture include Alexander Stirling Calder, Augustus St. Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. Source: Donald Martin Reynolds, "Masters of American Sculpture"; AskART biographies.
National Sculpture Society
The oldest organization of professional sculptors in the United States, the NSS is composed of master sculptors and architects dedicated to excellence in idealized figurative sculpture in classical realist or Beaux-Arts style. Daniel Chester French, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Richard Morris Hunt, and Stanford White founded the NSS in New York City in 1893, the same year as the Chicago Exposition. The first president of the National Sculpture Society was John Quincy Adams Ward. The Chicago Exposition was a turning point in collaboration between architects and sculptors and launched the success of many NSS members. The purpose of the organization was and remains to open public and private markets for sculptors. Early members were quite successful in dominating public commissions as long as they had architectural work and a nation that wanted to honor heroic individuals with their style of work. However members dating from the mid 20th century have not been as successful marketing traditional figurative sculpture with because of the popularity of more modernist styles and lessening demands for realist style commemorative artwork. Source: Donald Martin Reynolds, "Masters of American Sculpture";
A film or an incrustation, often green, that forms on copper and bronze after a certain period of weathering, it is a result of oxidation of copper. Different chemical treatments will also induce myriad colored patinas on new bronze works. Bronzes may additionally be painted with acrylic and lacquer. Source:, courtesy Michael Delahunt
A dry white powder base, it is made of sand and limestone mixed with water, and depending on the consistency, can be spread on a flat surface such as walls in building construction or modeled by sculptors into finished works or used for clay molds and finished terra-cotta figures. When dry, plaster can be quite hard and durable. American sculptors knows for using plaster as a finished product include Claes Oldenburg whose first pop-art figures in the 1970s included a mock store filled with plaster objects; George Segal, whose signature works were life-size human figures of un-painted plaster; Manuel Neri, whose earliest pieces were in plaster; Peter Agostini who did plaster forms over various armatures that anticipated Pop Art; and Deborah Butterfield whose first life-size horses, done in the 1970s, were painted plaster over steel armatures. (They proved so heavy she changed to lighter assemblage materials). Sources: Kimberly Reynolds, "Illustrated Dictionary of Art Terms". "Phaidon Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art"; AskART biographies.
Sculpture in which figures or other images are attached to a flat background, they are raised from the plane of the composition. Often this work is described as bas-relief or haut-relief. Source: "The World's Greatest Paintings", The Teaching Company
Roman Bronze Works
Established in 1897 by Ricardo Bertelli, it became the foremost bronze foundry in the United States. Its early major client was Tiffany Studios, and in 1927, the foundry moved to Tiffany's red brick factory in Corona, New York. The foundry made the bronze accessories for Tiffany lamps and other decorative items, and also did foundry work for many 20th-century sculptors including James Earle Fraser, Laura Gardin Fraser, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Frederick Remington, Charles Russell and Daniel Chester French. The company was owned by the Philip J. Schiavo family from 1946 until it closed in 1988. Plaster models of many of its famous sculptors were then auctioned, and money was used to restore its historic headquarters, the red brick factory. Sources: Wikipedia: Roman Bronze Works;; AskART biographies
A three-dimensional form modeled, carved or assembled.
Rock that has been suitably cut for carving, it is a traditional material for sculptors since prehistoric times and up to the advent of bronze casting. Sandstone, marble, granite and limestone are the most commonly used stone for sculptors, but in modern commercial definition, marble is in a separate category. Of working with stone, sculptor Isamu Noguchi said: "Stone is directly linked to the core of matter. It is a molecular conglomeration, so to speak. If you strike a stone it echoes back with the spirit of existence within us. It is an echo of the whole universe . . . It had a life before the existence of human beings . . . Stone is always old and new, and like a living being it exists with links to the past, the present,, and the future. . . Stones are the bones of the earth." (Duus 317) For most sculptors, stone is extracted from quarries such as Carrara in Italy or Aji in Japan. The work, which often involves slicing into mountainsides, is extremely dangerous, and a single mistake with loose boulders or flying chips can kill and injure workers. Among American sculptors other than Noguchi who are noted for working in stone are Jenny Holzer, who carves text political and social messages into site-specific stone formations, and Oreland Joe who carves Indian figures reflective of his Navajo-Ute heritage and who works primarily in alabaster, marble and limestone. Likely the most famous stone carver in western art history is Gutzon Borglum, who designed and oversaw the carving of the Presidential portraits into the side and top of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Sources: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"; Masayo Duus, "The Life of Isamu Noguchi"; AskART database.
In its pure form, a plastic-like animal substance secreted by bees. However, the meaning is expanded to include materials that resemble beeswax and may be vegetable in origin such as Paraffin, Carnauba and Candelilla. Unless specified in artist's materials, wax refers to white bleached beeswax. Although wax is related to oil, it is not fluid at normal temperature, which makes it useful as protective covering. However, all waxes, although varying in melting points, are not very durable because they melt at less than 100 degrees Centigrade or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Among American artists known for using wax are sculptors Daniel Bowen, Johann Rauschner, Giuseppe Valaperta, Theodore Garlick, Reuben Moulthrop, Johann Rauschner and Patience Lovell Wright. Lucy Rosado of New Orleans came from a family of waxworkers who went back several generations. Ethel Mundy revived the art of wax portraiture in 20th-century American sculpture. She worked with a chemist to create methods of preservation and color-fading prevention. Petah Coyne, a contemporary sculptor, incorporates wax into her modernist installations. Sources: Ralph Mayer, "A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques"; Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"; AskART database (LPD)
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