By Angela Rose | Apr 03, 2016
The oldest business of its kind in Loveland, Art Castings of Colorado began as an industrial foundry. Then a simple request launched a new adventure. "I think they were making wrenches for Craftsman at the time," says Workman, the company's GM since 1987. "An artist asked [then-owner] Bob Zimmerman to cast a sculpture and everything grew from there."
And grow it did.
The business that began in 2,500 square feet in 1972 has expanded to more than 25,000-square feet today, producing thousands of pieces -- from tabletop sculptures to monuments -- for hundreds of artists around the country every year. But Workman says it has also played a dramatic role in shaping the Loveland community. "If it wasn't for Bob and his willingness to cast art and change his business into an art foundry, I'm not sure we'd have such a big art scene in Loveland today," he confides.
Though the lost-wax casting technique the foundry uses has been around for at least 5,000 years, it remains a laborious process. "Our lead time on a small tabletop piece is 12 to 14 weeks. For monuments, the lead time can be up to a year," Workman states. From creation of the initial rubber mold to cleanup of the wax replica, pouring of the molten metal, welding, patina, and assembly of the final piece, Art Castings employees -- many artists in their own right -- take painstaking care to ensure every detail is exactly as the client intended it.
It's a big job -- often literally.
"The largest sculpture we've ever cast was a piece called The Irish Memorial for Santa Fe artist Glenna Goodacre," says Workman. "It included 37 seven-foot figures on a boat and weighed close to 14,000 pounds." More recently, Art Castings worked with artist Kent Ullberg on a 19-foot mastodon for installation at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It required casting in more than 100 separate pieces.
"I really like the sports figures," Workman shares. "We've done a ton of those. I got to meet Dan Marino once. We also do a lot of wildlife sculptures. Every project is unique and they are all fun; it's just something different every day." This includes casting the occasional part for a classic car restorer "as well as some architectural work such as custom door hardware and panels."
Many of Art Casting's clients have used their services for decades. "Every art foundry in the country thinks they're the best," Workman says with a laugh, "but ours is a little different due to our size, cleanliness, efficiency, and employees. We run manufacturing software and have every piece barcoded and time tracked. We use an induction furnace to melt our metal because it's cleaner, faster, and easier to control. And our employees are all very experienced and good at what they do."
Challenges: Managing growth is the foundry's biggest challenge. "Our market is growing as much as we want it to," Workman explains. "We've consciously made the decision to maintain our size and keep our growth very small and controlled. We don't take on any debt and aim for no more than about 5 to 10 percent growth each year. We're not looking to take over the world. We just want to have a good little business and provide a decent living for our employees."
Opportunities: "We're known for producing good, consistent quality products -- and we'd like to keep it that way," says Workman. "Once you have a good reputation, it can be a struggle to keep it. We've been fortunate to have a good reputation for a very long time. I think our biggest opportunity is to keep working on that every day to make sure our clients are happy and say good things about us."
Needs: "Right now, we're looking at whether to buy a corporate jet or a new forklift," Workman jokes. "But really, the company doesn't have many needs. We're always looking for talented, enthusiastic employees. Like with any small business, your employees either make you the money or lose you the money. As a manager, my job is to give them the best tools and equipment to succeed and then stay out of their way."