Rogers had a strong background as a machinist and engineer, but relatively little artistic training. He honed his working methods and material preferences over the years through observation and by trial and error. By 1865 he had developed a successful formula that he followed until his retirement in 1893. Following is a brief account of his working process, which took approximately four to six months. For a detailed explanation, see Thayer Tolles, “A Union of Art and Industry: How Rogers Groups Were Made,” in John Rogers: American Stories (New-York Historical Society, 2010).
Modeling tools, 1850-1900
Ivory and wood, L. 4 3/8 – 6 7/8 in. (11.1 – 17.5 cm)
Gift of Miss Katherine R. Rogers, 1955.55a-c
E. L. Washburn Set of drawing instruments in case, 1860-1890
Steel, other metal, ivory, wood, leather, textile
3/4 x 8 1/8 x 3 3/4 in. (1.9 x 20.6 x 9.5 cm)
Gift of Miss Katherine R. Rogers, 1955.56a-k
Life mask: John Rogers (the artist’s son), ca. 1866
9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
Gift of Miss Katherine R. Rogers, 1956.27
1. Clay model. Rogers considered this most critical step in the creative process. He made small sketches at about one-third or one-quarter size to develop compositional grouping, proportion, and physical gestures. Rogers made a particular study of equine anatomy and sometimes made measured drawings of the animals in his groups. Rogers also kept a collection of images of sculpture that he admired that ranges from ancient times to the nineteenth century. He used live models, generally his wife, children, or neighbors, as well as famous political figures and popular actors. Sometimes he obtained photographs, body measurements, and plaster life masks of the sitters.
2. Plaster model. Rogers used the clay model to develop a plaster model. The composition was divided into separate parts for casting.
3. Casting a mold for the master bronze. Rogers used the plaster model to create a mold for the master bronze. The artist found that if reproduced his sculptures from a plaster pattern, it lost crispness and detail over time. Rather than continually making new plasters, beginning in 1865 he invested in durable bronze as a basis for all future reproductions of a particular group.
4. Casting the master bronze. Rogers produced a negative mold to create a bronze in
partnership with New York founder Pierre Emmanuel Guerin. The master models cost
between $450 and $1,400 to create.
5. Creating a mold for the final plaster. Individual sections from the bronze master model
were placed in a casing called the mother mold. Liquid glue was poured in the casing to
create a flexible gelatin mold.
6. Casting the final plaster. After the master bronze was removed, plaster was poured into
the inverted case that contained the gelatin mold. Sometimes, wires were dropped into the
mold to strengthen the most fragile areas of the statuette.
7. Finishing the plaster. After drying, the plasters were finished by workmen who filed
down the raised seam lines from the mold, fixed any blemishes, and joined the component
8. Coloring The raw plaster was painted a matte buff color.