Lebanon businesses team up to memorialize fantasy author in metal

Maria Yohn Nease//May 15, 2019

Lebanon businesses team up to memorialize fantasy author in metal

Maria Yohn Nease//May 15, 2019

Ray Bradbury was a master at capturing childhood dreams of adventure and exploration in his prose. Now, two Central Pennsylvania businesses are playing a part in honoring the world-renowned author in the form of a memorial sculpture.

E&E Metal Fab Inc. and Pennsylvania Precision Cast Parts, both based in Lebanon County, have teamed up with Rockville, Maryland-based sculptor Zachary Oxman to create a statue called “Ray Bradbury: Fantastical Traveler.” It is commemorating Bradbury’s life and work in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday this August.

Born to write

Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois on Aug. 22, 1920, and although he moved with his family to Los Angeles as a teenager, he never forgot the small town that would eventually feature prominently in his work, according to a website devoted to the memorial statue project.

Bradbury rejected the label of “science fiction author,” saying that his works focused on “magical realism,” arising from an extensive imagination he developed while growing up in his small town. His most famous works, including “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and “Dandelion Wine” eventually became part of the canon of American literature. Bradbury died in 2012 at the age of 91.

The statue will be displayed in time for Bradbury’s birthday at the Waukegan Public Library in Lake County, Illinois – where Bradbury was born and raised.

The inspiration

In 2016, a committee of Waukegan community leaders put out a bid for a sculptor to present a design that captured the essence of Bradbury and his stories. Out of a pool of 41 national and international applicants, the committee chose Oxman. The town currently is campaigning to raise $125,000 to support the project, according to its website.

When Oxman learned about the call for artists to submit their best designs for a memorial statue of Ray Bradbury, he was immediately enthusiastic.

Although he doesn’t consider himself an avid fan of the author, he appreciates his work. Most of all, he saw it as a challenge he wanted to tackle.

“I was intrigued,” he said.

A digital rendering of what the Ray Bradbury statue will look like when it’s placed in front of the Waukegan Public Library in Illinois. – Submitted

Oxman describes himself as a “sculptural storyteller,” and he went to work learning about Bradbury and brainstorming how he could tell the author’s story through a creation of stainless steel.

He soon came across a poem of Bradbury’s, “If Only We Had Taller Been,” which deals with themes of human aspiration and space travel. It gave Oxman inspiration for the design.

Oxman decided on a 12-foot-tall, stainless steel statue that would depict a middle-aged Bradbury astride a rocket ship, waving a book as he journeys into space.

The sculptor said he wanted to depict Bradbury as an adult who still maintained the whimsical imagination of a child fantasizing about traveling to the moon. It’s no coincidence that in the sculpture, Bradbury is portrayed as a middle-aged man riding the rocket ship the way a child would ride it.

“The concept for the design was to play off this childlike imagination that Ray Bradbury always would reach for,” he said.

“He said that between our ears we have the rocket ship to the moon and that he could go anywhere. This was something that he followed all the way through his life as a child,” Oxman said.

“The rocket ship itself is very whimsical; not something that would exist in real life. It’s gears and a rocket, but it’s something the way a child might think of a rocket that would take you to the moon,” he said.

A partnership forged in metal

A sculptor for over 30 years, Oxman has completed commissions for two U.S. presidents, and his work has been exhibited throughout the U.S., including the National Museum of American Art, the White House and the Delaware Art Museum.

After being selected by the memorial statue committee, Oxman was ready to go with his design, but he needed a place to fabricate it. Fortunately, he had already established relationships with E&E Metal Fab and Pennsylvania Precision.

Oxman has collaborated with E&E Metal for the past eight years on a variety of large and small projects, including a statue of jazz legend Duke Ellington that now sits in Washington, D.C., according to E&E Metal CEO Willie Erb.

A welder puts the finishing touches on the Ray Bradbury statue that will be placed on the rocket. – Submitted

E&E, a family-run company founded in 2003, operates a full fabrication facility specializing in stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum and other alloys. It has 25 full-time employees and five part-time employees, according to Erb.

The company has worked with Oxman on around 15 to 20 projects so far, so it was no surprise when the sculptor approached him earlier this year with his concept for the Ray Bradbury statue, Erb said.

“We are the fabricator of all his work and it’s really cool. He’s very innovative with everything he does,” Erb said.

In order to complete the project, Oxman also required the services of Pennsylvania Precision, a business he also has collaborated with for almost a decade, according to Mike Dissinger, Pennsylvania Precision vice president of sales.

“We’ve been involved in several projects of this scope and size, along with many other smaller projects,” Dissinger said.

Pennsylvania Precision was founded in 1954 as Quaker Alloy in Myerstown. In 1990, the company purchased a facility that previously housed the Lebanon Steel Foundry, where it remains today, according to the company’s website.

How it came together

Oxman first approached E&E Metal with his big-picture idea and the dimensions, which were saved on a thumb drive.

E&E was tasked with fabricating the rocket ship, and it did so by taking the thumb drive and programming the specifications onto a computer, which in turn directed a water jet to cut Oxman’s design out of stainless steel.

The rocket was made out of several tons of stainless steel, Erb said, which was rolled inside and outside and welded to create the rocket ship. A fin also was fabricated to sit at the back of the ship, he said.

The rocket took approximately four months to design and fabricate, Oxman said.

At the same time, Pennsylvania Precision began casting the Ray Bradbury statue using a lost-wax technique, a process that took around seven weeks to complete, Dissinger said.

In following the lost-wax process, Oxman presented Pennsylvania Precision with a pattern made of resin, which was coated in liquid ceramic to create a quarter- to half-inch shell.

Then, the initial resin material was melted, leaving a ceramic-shell negative of the pattern into which molten steel was poured. Eventually, the shell was blasted off to reveal the new, stainless-steel Ray Bradbury statue.

The full statue was completed in 25 parts, Dissinger said, which were then sent to E&E Metal to be welded together.

Once the entire project is completed, Oxman will take the rocket ship and the Ray Bradbury statue to be assembled together in his Maryland studio.

The entire project, from beginning to end, will take an estimated six to eight months to complete, he said.

By Aug. 22, Oxman’s homage to Ray Bradbury will sit outside the entrance to the Waukegan Public Library, according to the statue committee’s website, a fitting location for an author who was a fierce proponent of public libraries throughout his life.