Clay figures, image courtesy of Edward Fraser Ltd.

Silversmiths Edward Fraser Ltd, from Birmingham, was commissioned by the Regiment to create a unique piece of silver based on the Robert Gibb’s iconic Victorian painting “The Thin Red Line”.

 

Inspired by the scene and by studying a mixture of photographic images and uniform details from the museum’s archives and collection, the sculptor set about producing clay figures on rough wire frames. Unlike the painting, the sculptor also had to accurately represent a 360 degree view of the soldiers including the back of uniform and equipment. Using fine modelling tools he painstakingly attempted to recreate every detail of the chosen subjects from the painting. During the sculpting process one of the clay figures was accidentally knocked of the table it was sitting on, potentially ruining hours of work, however luckily it somehow landed upright on its base and no damage was done.

 

These master pattern figures were then moulded and cast in silver by the “lost wax process”. This involves firstly making rubber latex moulds from the clay figures. Molten wax is then injected into the cavity in the new moulds. The wax figures are removed and iron wire is then pushed through the wax to support the cores. They are then encapsulated in plaster of paris and when the plaster hardens the moulds are placed in the oven. This dries the plaster further and melts the wax out of the moulds which leaves a cavity. Molten silver is then carefully poured into the cavity and allowed to cool. The moulds are finally broken to reveal the newly created silver statuettes. These silver figures were then sent away to the Assay Office for hallmarking. There they tested the quality of the silver and stamped each piece with the appropriate hallmark.

 

The hands were modelled separately in epoxy (green) putty as this would later allow the silversmith more scope when positioning the hands and inserting the muskets the figures would be holding. The muskets, bayonets, officer’s broadsword and dirk were all made in brass by the silversmith. The basket hilt of the officer’s sword was made much like a piece of jewellery as it had at least 20 separate pieces in its construction.

 

Once returned, the silversmith cleaned the figures and soldered them together. The details were then sharpened and defined with hardened punches and then the figures were polished on rotating buffing mops. This process was repeated until the silver and details had a high quality finish. The figures were then fixed to the base which had been sculpted using one piece of silver sheet. The final piece of the construction was the addition of the hand engraved dedication plate on the front of the plinth.

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