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This Old Statehouse: Interview with Doris Park

posted on April 3, 2001 at 11:13 AM

Doris Park
Max-Cast Art Foundry

JACK SHEPARD INTERVIEWS DORIS PARK FOR STORY ON IOWA STATE CAPITOL RENOVATION

Interviewed May 10, 2000

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what you folks do here at Max Cast.

DORIS PARK: We're an art foundry here. We cast metal objects. We usually cast works of art, either our own or other peoples', but we also do, other small objects. We're doing the historic replications pieces for the Capitol. It's quite an exciting project to be part of.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what we saw today, when we were taking pictures.

DORIS PARK: That was our bronze melting operation. We have a furnace in the back there and we melt bronze. Our furnace runs at several thousand degrees. We melt the bronze and heat it to 2100 degrees, and then we pour it into our prepared molds. The ones that you saw today are ceramic shell molds -- that's our modern process. The pieces are made first in wax, with the use of a rubber mold that was made on the original hardware from the state Capitol. It is then coated with our ceramic shell material, and the wax is melted out. Then we preheat those molds, and pour them with our hot molding bronze. After that, we cool them off, and chip them out, usually with just a hammer or some kind of air tool and chip off all of the ceramic shell.

JACK SHEPARD: How long does the process take from start to finish? What kind of time are we talking about, from when you've got the order until it is finished?

DORIS PARK: It's a very complicated process and there's a lot of preparation. We started with the original antique hardware. We clean it up, mount it on boards, make rubber molds on that, and use that to make our waxes.

JACK SHEPARD: Why are some of these things replaced?

DORIS PARK: They've worn out in some cases. I think they've also put in more doors and other changes, as the Capitol was expanded. In fact, they're trying to make some of the newer parts look like the old.

JACK SHEPARD: They sent you some old pieces to copy, is that right?

DORIS PARK: Right. Some of the pieces that they had that were original had been replaced. I know that they had gone through and taken out some of those beautiful old, oak doors, and replaced them with modern hollow cored doors, and put in hinges from somewhere else.

JACK SHEPARD: What's distinctive about the hardware, or the grillwork that you've been doing? What do you think of the quality of the original construction, back in 1884?

DORIS PARK: Oh, those old things are amazing! I really like historic restoration. I'm really in awe of the quality that they were able to produce back then and that it's held up for 100 years or so. I've really been amazed at the high quality of work that was done in the 1800's. The pieces that were brought in to us, to copy were still in very good shape. Others were worn. Still others had been modified in some way, by someone along the way, trying to fix something or make it work better. I think they're doing a really nice job. They're really trying to get the original hardware replicated, so that it's very authentic. The casting process that we're using hasn't changed that much, since the time when those were cast. I think we have a few modern improvements, but, essentially, it's down to pouring that molten metal into some kind of a mold, and that's what they did back then too.

JACK SHEPARD: How do you feel being a part of something that's going to be in our state's Capitol for the next 100 years or longer?

DORIS PARK: I like to think that it will be there for the next hundred years. I'm pretty proud of what we've done here. We've managed to solve a lot of technical problems, and make the system work. We have had to adapt our replicated old hardware to the modern locksmiths, so the doors will open and shut, and all the systems will work. At the same time, we've kept the hardware as authentic as we can.

I personally like historic restoration a lot, and I definitely feel that this is an important project. It's going to be really splendid when it's done, and I'm proud to have made a contribution to it. We've enjoyed working on it.

JACK SHEPARD: Did you take any special steps to insure that your products are as close to duplicates as the ones you received?

DORIS PARK: Yes, we did. We made a lot of molds off the originals. In some cases, where we had to modify them, we worked off the waxes made from the original pieces, and we changed them to adapt to some of the modern considerations. The only actual new pieces we've made are our lever handles, and those are being put in because of the handicapped accessibility act. We created lever handles that matched the original hardware, and looked as close as we could get to what they would have made back then, if they were making lever handles.

I did quite a lot of the original pattern work on the grills for setting these pieces up, and figuring out how to cast them, how to make the patterns, and how to make the molds. I made the first round of lever handles. We later had a sophisticated, computerized pattern-making machine make a lever handle with straighter edges than I could get in my original wax piece. We start with the drawing and then we adapt it to the lockset.

JACK SHEPARD: Are you looking forward to having your grandchild, or whomever else, open the door to the Capitol and use the handle that you made?

DORIS PARK: That would be great. I don't have any grandchildren yet, but perhaps they'll tour the Capitol someday and see the hardware, and if I'm around, I can point to it and say, "We made that." Actually, it's really hard to tell from the original pieces that they put back in. And that's good. That's one of our objectives--is to match it closely. We do have it marked so that in the future, they're restoring the Capitol again and they look at that hardware, they will be able to tell it apart. If they take those hinges apart, on the inside, it says, "MADE BY MAX CASTS, 1998."

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