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Henry Alvarez.  Just his name alone invokes head nods and wide eyes from just about anyone familiar with his work.  Henry's career spans four decades and he's been busy the whole time.  Bronze, latex, wax, you name the medium and Henry has done it.    Henry is a very friendly and gracious man.  Very much family oriented, he would be the first to tell you how much his family has helped his career and many of them work with him in his studio.  Henry took some time out of his busy schedule to give us a history of where is talent has taken him and where he has yet to go.  The pictures he sent pretty much speak for themselves.

 

LMC: You spent a lot of time in artistic endeavors growing up. What did you create as a boy?

HA: I was always drawing as a kid and the great comic book covers were very inspirational. I was always copying them and the Sunday Funnies were a must! Prince Valiant and the Phantom were definitely a must see. The most inspirational was Walt Disney! I was going to work for him when I grew up. That was my dream goal, to work for him.

He had a magical place where not only one could draw, but where your drawings  become animated cartoons and better yet, they became three dimensional at the DISNEYLAND PARK! It was very magical to see and touch all the great sculptures there.

Besides drawing, I did a lot of wood carving.  I had a little business, carving “Tiki-Gods” for the local surfers to wear around their necks. You should’ve seen the “bone-chilling” cuts I inflicted on myself, learning how to use pocket knifes that always seem to fold back at the wrong time!

Then I found some old magazines with all these pictures of monsters in them, (famous Monsters) and being that I had trouble reading, (A very slow reader) I absorbed the imagery.  Now, not having any knowledge of sculpting or mask making, my first efforts consisted of using “chicken-wire” and newspaper. I shaped the chicken wire and then applied home-made paper mache’ over it. When it dried, I painted it with poster paints.

I made these giant heads of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Saucer man from the film, Invasion of the Saucer men.

Moving on in time,  a neighbor had his backyard filled with sand and clay from the local  shooting range. I discovered this natural clay! I love working with my hands and this was a whole new medium to express myself  in! The only disappointing thing about it was, it was not permanent.

Not to get too crazy with the “inspiration” bit, but life in general amazed me. Frogs, snakes, birds, fish, and for an even greater wonder, have you ever looked into a fish’s mouth? Fantastic forms! Nature and all its creations were, and continue to, fill the mind with awe.

 

LMC: How did your parents react to your interest:

HAYou know, I think they just sorta took it in stride. I had quite a large family.  Four sister’s and two brothers who have artistic talent, so at first my folks did not think much about my interest until I got into the monsters stuff. Kinda went against my mom’s  religious up bringing.  Not that she or my dad tried to sway me away from it, they just praised the more “normal” and less threatening art. As I grew into a young man, they saw that I was really interested in all forms of art and gave me a lot of encouragement. My dad, being the father he is, also warned me that an “Artist’s” life at making money was gonna be pretty hard. He was always offering me the option of becoming a “longshoreman.”  Pretty good income and great job security, but did not fit my dreams.

Both my mother and father helped put me through college, (obtaining an “Associate In Arts Degree) and later, loaning me money to start my business.

 

LMC: Were there any artists that inspired you when you were young?

HA Walt Disney was a big inspiration, plus the numerous artists that drew for the comic books. I did not memorize the artist’s names as much as the images. They came later. It was the imagery that stuck in my mind. I also recall that I really like the realistic drawing that was done for the comic books that I only recall as being titled CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED.  That’s where I saw the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and so on.  Those were my cherished pieces. 

 

LMC: What has contributed most to your success, natural talent, hard work, great mentors, other?                 

HA: I believe that all the above apply. The “Talent” was nurtured by many individuals I have met throughout my life. Someone who bought a piece of my work, be it a drawing or a small wood carving or whatever, this was encouragement.

A teacher, who took the extra time to work with a very shy, person. Professional artists, who took the chance on hiring me to perform artistic works for them. All these and many more contribute to the talent area.

Hard work, yes,  compromise and sacrifice too. As A kid, I would walk many miles down to the beach to watch local artists paint seascapes, buildings, etc. I learned that you have to devote time to become good at something, no matter what it is. I worked in a florist shop for fifty cents an hour because I admired flowers and their beauty, and to watch what the artists there, did with them. I worked as a kid, cutting lawns and delivering newspapers so I could buy comics and drawing materials. All this contributed to my values and methods in my adult career.

I had a great opportunity to work under the tutelage of the late, great, Katherine Marie Stubergh. Not only was she a great artist/sculptor, she had a great influence on the way I look at life and art.

She was modest about her talent, yet knew how much value publicity played in terms of the success of selling her various products. She was down to earth and very real in her observations on life. She not only created wax figures, she created bronze memorials, floats for parades, State and World fair exhibitions, traveling road shows, and film work , just to name a few. She provided art work for films such as “House of Wax” with Vincent Price, portrait busts, like the one of Charlie Chaplin, in the film, “The Great Dictator”, the figure of Maureen O’Hara for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Charles Laughton, and many more.

Knowing that she did all this and more, makes it believable for myself to attempt the same.

My career has been immensely inspired by her and I have tried different areas of art due to her teachings and beliefs. I have a vast collection of publicity and studio photos on her career. I had about three years of actually working with her,  and a lot of her history was crammed into that time period. I was naïve and curious enough to ask questions when we were alone in the studio, that I guess she took a liking to me. Almost like a son, but not quite. Katherine, was the biggest influence, artistically and sculpturally , in my life.

 

LMC: You seem to have a family of artists.  Is it natural talent that runs through the family, or do you train them?

HA: Well, it is part natural talent and part training. Every area of art is demanding and there are many different types of personalities needed to do them. For example, in sculpture, you can get pretty fast results, form wise, while in the hair insertion it takes a much longer period to achieve the desired look. The direction of hair insertion has to be done as if it were growing naturally out of the head. My mind can deal with the sculpting but gets impatient with the hair work. So you have to find that person with the right mental personality , the mind-hand coordination to fit that job requirement. There are no schools that train in this art form, that is, wax models, even to this day. All other forms of related sculpture in this industry,  i.e. mask and make-up, have various options available. Whether it be by correspondence schools, instructional videos,  or trade schools. I happened to have a family with a great talent, good learning capabilities, and the mind-hand coordination to do the various tasks involved in these related art forms.

 

LMC: What did Katherine Stubergh teach you about wax modeling?

HA: Katherine gave me the first, real instruction on portrait sculpture. This was a major factor in choosing this career. She first tested me, to see if I was “really interested” and then started giving me assigned areas. For example, the first sculpture I worked on with her, was a piece of Tom Jones. She would sculpt a part of his face and direct me on the other side. It was sort of like on the job training. Learning to read facial forms. Once she felt or saw that I was deeply interested in her art form, she began to teach me all the basic knowledge on creating wax models. This included the formulas for the wax itself, as well as the Stubergh family technique for painting wax.

She stated that the expertise would be acquired as I continued to create each piece.

In this line of art, we, the sculptors, are required to, more often than not, create portrait sculptures from various photographs and or painting of the individuals being portrayed.

This is no easy task, as you have to “read” photographs, to discern form from the lighting or the lack of it. How human anatomy works in reality and problems there, when  working with a hard physical material, trying to resemble the human form. Molding, casting, preparation, finishing, packing, there are so many different areas involved in wax modeling. It is hard to define each specific lesson, but Katherine provided the base and relied on my natural artistic/business instincts to complete the lessons and acquire the expertise.

 

LMC: Can you give an overview of how a wax model is created?

HA: Sure! First you have to have the research! Sometimes the client provides this information, but most of the time you have to find it yourself. This means finding out how tall your subject is, how much weight, color of eyes, hair, skin and most important, photographs for the sculpture. Once in a great while, you can have the subject “sit” for a sculpture, but that does not happen often. The same thing applies to the “taking of a life-mask”.

The next step is the sculpture itself, followed by the molding of it. Usually, during this same time frame, you locate a person with similar hand shape and size, take hand life-casts and mold them.

Next step is casting the head and hands in wax. This is for a standard wax model. The only parts of the body that are to be exposed, are cast in wax, The rest is made of fiberglass. In my early training, the bodies were made out of paper-mache’.  While the wax parts are being cast, a body is being considered. You can bring in a person who has a similar looking body and do a life cast, or you can sculpt it, or utilize an existing manniquin and make alterations to it.

All processes are overlapping, so that production can keep moving forward.

Once the molds are opened and the wax comes out, we then clean the seams, insert the eyes and if necessary, the teeth. The head is then sealed with a wooden plug at the base of the neck. It now goes to the hair artist, to have the hair inserted into the wax. This can take one to two weeks.

The wax parts are then fitted to the body and a re-touch cleaning is done in preparation for painting.  Using our “secret” formula, the wax parts are painted and finished, which includes the styling of the hair.

The wax models are then filmed, showing how to assemble them.  The next step is an option, and that is fitting the costume if one was ordered. We usually hire a “costumer” to create one for us.

We then pack the wax models and ship.  Another option is traveling out to the museum site to assemble and install the wax models.

This may sound very “short and easy” to do, but there are many, many other minor areas involved and have to be executed to create these wax models.

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