Bits 'n' Pieces: Father and son sculpt piece of history

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian neighborhood news coordinator

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The names of a father and son sculpting team will be emblazoned on history.

Noted sculptor Rip Caswell didn't have to look far for an apprentice after being picked for a prestigious honor. The Naval Order of the United States commissioned Rip last year to create a towering bronze statue of former U.S. Navy five-star Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

He found his helper just one branch away on the family tree.

Rip brought his 20-year-old son, Chad Caswell, of Hockinson, on board for the nearly yearlong process of designing and building a monument to the WWII-era admiral, who died in 1966. It's now being cast in bronze and will be unveiled during the annual "End of World War II" ceremony on Sept. 2 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"He felt that I was ready for it. I took the challenge," Chad said.

Chad grew up around his family's Troutdale, Ore., gallery, naturally following his father down an artistic life path. Chad is studying business at Clark College, gathering knowledge he plans to one day use to run his own sculpting company or gallery.

For years, Chad has been tinkering around the shop, helping his father as an assistant and even creating a few of his own realistic sculptures of frogs and turtles. His finished pieces are showcased in the Caswell Gallery and at http://www.chadcaswell.com.

"I don't feel there's a better teacher than my dad," he said.

Chad, Rip and others in their family will travel to Pearl Harbor in September for the ceremony at the Battleship Missouri Memorial, where their signed sculpture will be permanently placed. Each year, millions visit the memorial, based around the retired warship that hosted the Japanese surrender ceremony marking the formal end of World War II.

Crafting a traditional bronze sculpture, such as the 8-foot statue of Nimitz, is an arduous endeavor that spans many months: First, a foam frame is covered with clay and sculpted with intricate details. Then the clay structure is coated with latex to make a rubber mold. Wax and a ceramic slurry mixture are used to create a hard shell from the mold that will withstand being filled with nearly 2,000-degree molten bronze. Chemicals turn the naturally bright yellow color into a darker brown most commonly associate with bronze.

"It's quite a long process to get it all done," Chad said.

Without realizing it, you might have seen some of Rip's sculptures. His monument to former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall was placed in 2008 at Riverfront Park in Salem, Ore., while a 17-foot representation of flying Canadian geese adorns the entryway to Tualatin, Ore. Locally, some of his intricate wildlife sculptures are displayed in the six Park Plaza office buildings off Mill Plain Boulevard in east Vancouver.

"We are honored and thrilled to host the statue and are sure that it will be a focal point for many years to come," said Michael A. Carr, president and chief operating officer of the Battleship Missouri Memorial.

View Caswell's sculptures at http://www.caswellsculptures.com

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.