Carl Wagner – Sculptor (Bell Maker)
May 14, 2011 at 2:05 am #11435halanbParticipant
VINTAGE CARL WAGNER BRONZE STEERHEAD BELL
HERE IS A NICE BRONZE STEERHEAD BELL BY ARTIST CARL WAGNER.
THIS PIECE WAS LIMITED TO 500 PIECES,MOST WERE 1000.
IT HAS A HORN SPAN OF 9 1/4″,AND 5 1/2″ ACROSS THE BOTTOM.
IT HAS A STEER LEG FOR THE CLAPPER.
Note that this is a LARGE and HEAVY table bell. It sold for a relatively high price, though much in line with the prices paid for Wagner bells. 500 pieces is a fairly large edition for a bell, and all 500 were made, so the question is why do Wagner bells sell for much higher prices than Ballantyne bells that generally had smaller editions?
The answer is Supply and Demand. Gerry Ballantyne marketed his bells to the bell collecting community, they circulate within that community, and most can be readily obtained at a reasonable price. Carl Wagner marketed his bells to visitors to national parks and gift shops, relatively few went to the bell collecting community, so they can be difficult to obtain.
A full retrospective of Carl Wagner bells, with list and pictures, was published in the Jan-Feb 2010 Bell Tower magazine. The following is an interview I did with him about two years ago. The first picture is Carl and Barbara Wagner. The second picture is Carl with one of his sculptures.
Note: Carl and Barbara Wagner were at Art in the Park in Columbia MO, June 6-7, 2009. They were gracious to spend an hour and answer my questions about the bells he made. He gave permission for this to be printed in The Bell Tower. The answers are written in the first person, and represent what they told me. Any mistakes or misrepresentations are strictly my own fault.
Q. If your primary interest was animal figures, how did you happen to make these bells?
A. I began designing and casting bronzes around 1977. My first markets were intended to be gift shops and stores in national parks. I needed something that would sell in those venues, at a reasonable price, so began making bells and mugs.
Q. When were the bells made? Over what period? Why did you cease?
A. The bells were made between 1977 and 1979. They generally sold well, but the work was intensive and the profits were lower on these smaller items, and there were some problems with slow pay from gift shops. I had begun making larger bronze animal figures, intended for a different market. They were also selling well and I decided to concentrate on this area.
Q. Do you recall how many different bell designs there were?
A. I think there were about 20 bell designs that went into large production. A typical run was intended to be 1000 or, in a few cases, 500. I would cease making a particular design when interest slackened. Some reached or nearly reached the target number, but I have no specific records. I may have designed as many as forty, but some were not as well received. I would make a few as a sample and expand the numbers as orders were placed. Some designs were not put into general production or produced only in smaller quantities. Barbara retained a complete collection of each bell and mug but, unfortunately, most were destroyed in a fire in Florida about two years ago.
Q. Did you have a targeted audience? Who do you think actually bought them – bell collectors or persons with a general interest in Western art?
A. My target was generally what would sell in gift shops and national parks, geared toward animals but not specifically to Western art. I do know that some bell collectors bought them, and that some sought them out. I recall separate visits from George Nader, and from Winston Jones and John McCombie.
Q. Did some of the mugs use the same figures? When were the mugs made? How many different designs?
A. The mugs often used the same figures as the bells and were made at the same time as the bells. Overall, I probably had twice as many designs for the mugs as for the bells.
Q. Did you cast and finish them yourself, or send them to a foundry?
A. I have always done my own work in my own facilities; casting them with new silicon bronze, not scrap. My foundry was located in Salida CO, and is now in Naples FL. I still do some finish work in Colorado in the summer.
Q. If “unsigned”, e.g. some Elk bells, are they authentic?
A. I was alerted to the fact someone appeared to be making knockoff copies. I don’t know who, where, or how many. All my work is signed and dated. If it is not signed, then it is not mine.
Q. How do you currently market your bronze figures?
A. I have had my work in galleries over the years, but there can be problems there as well. I prefer to sell my work directly to the public. Barbara and I attend 30-40 art fairs around the country each year. Some repeat customers contact me directly.
Below are two pictures of Carl Wagner mugs. They are also bronze, and are large and heavy.
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