Sculpture by Machinery

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sculpture by Machinery is an article published in The Morning Post on 14 august 1903.

An invention that reproduces statues, which Arthur Conan Doyle acquired the British rights.

Sculpture by Machinery

The Morning Post (14 august 1903, p. 7)

Remarkable Invention.

Michael Angelo is said to have chiselled his wonderful statues out of the solid marble without having guidance of models of clay or other plastic material. Whether the statement be true or false the modern sculptor prefers safer, if more elaborate, methods. His custom is first to model in clay the bust, figure, or group he designs to produce in more permanent material. The clay model is then handed over to skilled workmen, who reproduce it in marble by mechanical means. Innumerable small holes of carefully measured length are drilled into the stone, and, after weeks or months of labour, a marble copy of the model is made. The sculptor afterwards endows the copy with all the artistic merit of which he is capable, and so makes the work his own. There have been attempts from time to time in various quarters to provide a machine which will perform the task now carried out by the sculptor's workmen, but hitherto they have met with little or no success. It has been reserved for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the wellknown and popular novelist, and Mr. W. G. Jones, a sculptor who is better known in the United States than in this country, to bring before the public an invention which will do all work now done by the "pointer" and in a twentieth of the time. The inventor is Signor Auguste Bontempi, of Naples. Sir A. Conan Doyle and Mr. Jones have acquired all the British rights in the invention, as well as the only machine carrying out Signor Bontempi's ideas at present in existence.

The Machine at Work.

A representative of the Morning Post had the opportunity of seeing the sculpturing machine at work yesterday. It has been temporarily set up at Battersea in a factory recently occupied by one of those limited companies that have fallen on evil days, and its domicile is approached through grass-grown private road and a number of dust-covered, deserted rooms. But these depressing surroundings are forgotten as soon as the machine is seen at work. It is really a wonderful contrivance, and one that probably destined to have a great effect on the art of sculpture in the immediate future. When our representative inspected the machine it was engaged in producing two marble copies of a bust of Homer. The Italian workman in charge was seated on one side of the machine. In front of him was a plaster cast. With one hand he guided a rod backwards and forwards over the plaster. A revolving steel drill protruded from the machine a couple of feet away and another further on. In front of each of these drills was fixed a block of marble. A jet of water played on the point of each drill. Every movement of the rod in the workman's hand was followed by a similar movement on the part of the drills, which rapidly cut away the surface of the marble until it corresponded with the surface of the plaster. The machine had already roughly cut the face of the poet out of the marble and was at work on the side of the head. Some of the superabundant stone having been rapidly cleared away, the rod was applied to the fillet binding the poet's hair, and in a few minutes the ribbon was reproduced in marble. The rough outline of the hair then made its appearance, every lock being hewn out of the hard stone with astonishing celerity and marvellous fidelity.

Distinguished Visitors.

A finished copy of the same bust was standing in the workshop. This copy was being made when Mr. Thomas Brock, R.A., inspected the machine a short time ago. The distinguished sculptor expressed the opinion that it would take skilled workman three weeks merely to "point" such a bust, and he expressed the utmost astonishment when he learnt that the machine had done the work in single day. Another visitor, Mr. Brindley, of the firm of Farmer and Brindley, said it would take from six weeks to two months to do that which the machine is said to have accomplished in about nine hours.

"From Pounds to Shillings."

It remains only to congratulate Sir A. Conan Doyle and Mr. W. G. Jones on the good fortune in having lighted on so remarkable an invention. The present machine cost only about five hundred pounds, and the expense of working is almost infinitesimal. While the invention will not do away with the necessity for the artist's finishing touches in the case of delicate work, it promises entirely to abolish the present long and costly process of "pointing." So far as architectural decoration is concerned the effects of its introduction should be remarkable. In the opinion of one architect of experience it will reduce the price of architectural carving "from pounds to shillings." The same Corinthian capital, for instance, is reproduced in infinite number, and so is much of the floral work that enters largely into the adornment of Gothic buildings. The cost of such reproduction can now be greatly reduced without in any way depreciating the artistic excellence of the work. There is no reason why, when such a machine comes into common use, really good sculpture should not take the place of the inferior carvings in stone which now disfigure the portals, the windows, and the mantels many of our suburban houses. The invention is undoubtedly a notable one, and it has vast possibilities of development.