Bronze Valley of Oregon in Joseph is internationally recognized as an art foundry. It solidified its reputation when it was commissioned to produce the bronze wreaths, stars and other bronze pieces for the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Its other commissions have included the cases that hold the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the lobby at the National Archives.
The foundry facilities are surprisingly humble. The machine sheds on a lot of farms are fancier than the foundry buildings. The people who work there look like the people you would meet in any small town – because they are. Large works are cast in sections of two feet by two feet, at most, and then welded together. I asked the young man who did the welding about his background. He said his dad worked there and he started mowing the lawn right out of high school. He was eventually trained to use the Miller tig welder. His welds are smooth and solid, not the splatter welds practiced by most amateurs. His dad’s job is to buff, detail and polish the welds so they are invisible. Our guide said a visible weld is enough to have a finished work rejected.
The people who work at Bronze Valley are not necessarily artists. They are skilled and extremely consciences craftspeople who turn the artist’s vision into finished bronze art. An artist was there who creates intricate Art Nouveau style bronze vases. She was watching a woman apply coloring to one of her vases, a job that involves heat and sometimes nasty chemicals. Elsewhere another woman was detailing the wax mold for yet another vase.
Bronze Valley has transformed Joseph into kind of an art hot spot. It has also spawned other foundries in the area, and yes, the cowboys and the artists do get along with each other. Joseph is a very friendly town.