Cynthia Thornton of Green Girl Studios went to school to learn how to make large-scale bronze sculptures. But once she was out in the real world, that plan fizzled. “Bronze casting costs about eight dollars per pound, and I couldn’t afford it.”
She and her husband, Greg Ogden, solved that dilemma by creating a miniature home-based foundry. Now Thornton specializes in tiny sculptures cast in bronze, silver, pewter, and a Japanese silver/copper alloy called Shibuichi, which has a burgundy patina.
She carves wax — while looking through a magnifying glass — to make intricate master molds. Then she loads as many as 20 at a time into a spin caster, a machine that employs centrifugal force to disperse liquid metal into all the minute nooks and crannies of each mold. “We can spin out a thousand pieces a day,” says Thornton, who makes pendants, decorative coins, beads, jewelry, and other items with a signature medieval-chic appeal. She also uses an ancient method called “lost wax casting,” which got its name because the wax model that shapes the piece is lost when melted off inside a kiln.
It’s a tight partnership. “My husband does the casting,” she says. “He also makes my tools. They are really beautiful. Most people use dental tools, but they’re not perfect for exactly what I need. Clay tools aren’t ideal, either. So I design and sketch the tips and my husband hammers them out in steel. It’s blacksmithing on a smaller scale, making very sharp-tipped tools that are buffed out like jewelry. I might think I need a certain tip to carve this eye on an animal, so I draw it. He goes downstairs and comes back 30 minutes later and says, ‘Will this work?’
“I can use a tool we designed to make a wax carving in the morning, and have a metal master by the end of the day.”
Thornton also makes articulated paper dolls, something she learned in childhood. “My family didn’t have lot of money, and a lot of the toys we played with were made by me and my sister. Since paper dolls were stationary, it was boring, and we wondered how to make them jointed and pose-able.”
To share her love of craft, Thornton wrote and illustrated a book of mixed-media jewelry-making techniques, Enchanted Adornments: Creating Jewelry with Metal, Clay, Resin, Wire and More. Now she’s working with a friend on a graphic novel.
“I used to do freelance work making what other people assigned to me, and it’s easy to get bored and run out of steam. Now I just make what I want, and the worst part of my day is when I have to stop and go to sleep.”
Cynthia Thornton and Greg Ogden, East Asheville. The couple will exhibit at the Big Crafty, a curated artisan showcase that celebrates its tenth season on Sunday, July 15, 11am-7pm at Pack Square Park downtown. Green Girl Studios sells pieces at Hobby Lobby, and Thornton’s work is also on her website, Green Girl Studios (greengirlstudios.com); on Instagram (@greengirlstudios); and in her Etsy shop: cynthiathornton.