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You might have seen her art gallery here at Elfwood and you might even own some of the incredible figurines she makes. The story about Windstone Editions and Melody Pena is a story about hard work, original ideas and a love of sculpting.
Melody Pena lives in Southern California USA with her husband John Alberti. Over the past twenty five years they have grown Windstone Editions into a company that is well known by collectors in North America, Europe and many other parts of the world for their distinctive cast gypsum fantasy sculpture.
An unique, exclusive Interview with Windstone Editions
Question: How did Windstone Editions get started?
John: The idea to produce glass eyed animal figurines from Melody's sculpture originated in 1984 with our good friend Mark Hines. Mark was running a giftware ceramics company and Melody and I were publishing and selling prints of Melody's scratchboard drawings as Alberti Design. Mark and I were both looking for new giftware or collectible products to sell to our customers and he suggested that Melody sculpt animals that he could cast. Cast gypsum collectibles were being produced by other companies and since gypsum doesn't need to be fired, they should be easy to make. right??
Well, wrong. We found that producing high quality gypsum castings is just as difficult to make as high quality ceramics, if not more so. Mark, Melody and I spent many long frustrating evenings after our other businesses were closed, experimenting with different casting and painting methods, fighting the defects and bubbles in the castings and finally retreating to the local Thai restaurant for supper while laughing ourselves silly for being insane enough to even try this.
Question: How did you decide on dragons and fantasy as a subject?
Melody: The first line of sculptures we produced in 1984 were mostly non-fantasy animals. These were cute-but-boring, cats, bears, pigs and other run-of-the mill vermin and they did not sell particularly well. We would probably have given up on this project then if it were not for the one hatching dragon sculpture I did. We knew that fantasy subjects had sold well in the past because of our success with the Alberti Design fantasy print line, but we thought the gift market's interest in fantasy was over. Not so! We got such a great response to that one little hatching dragon sculpture that we realized fantasy was far from dead, and from there the Windstone fantasy line was born.
I sculpted a mother and father dragon to go with the hatchling, and we were off and running. Windstone was incorporated in 1985, Mark had left to build up his ceramic business and, rather suddenly it seemed, John and I had a staff of over fifty employees all working like killer bees to keep up with the demand for our dragons!
Question: So, what is the Windstone factory like now?
John: We are still a small family run business, but the Windstone factory has become a much more sophisticated operation than anyone could have imagined from its humble, and humbling, beginnings. We still do almost everything needed to produce our sculptures right here in our factory. Every small detail in the manufacturing process has been a challenge to overcome, from learning to make a serviceable long lasting production mold and getting bubble free castings, to getting the paint to stick to the finished castings. We learned to fire enamel onto glass eyes so the color won't peel off and how to make the molds for and cast pewter parts. We even manufacture our own recyclable packing inserts for the product boxes and we have a very nice photo studio and graphic arts department to create advertising material and website artwork.
We also have a complete machine and model making shop and that doesn't hurt either.
For many years, working with my father, we had made props for television commercials and worked on a couple of major films. Friends in the entertainment business who work on films also gave us many connections to talented people, including Gunnar Ferdinandsen who was a top model maker in Hollywood. Gunnar had come from a family of art reproduction mold makers in Europe where he learned the trade. He would work for us between film jobs and teach us the art of mold making. We still get a lot of help from friends when we need help understanding science or business problems that are beyond us.
Question: How are the Windstone sculptures created?
Melody: The Windstone fantasy line didn't start with clay, as you'd expect. Windstone sculptures started with a concept for the entire line. Before I sculpted anything, I thought hard about where these pieces would fit into the gift and collectible market. We had made a mistake with the first animal line by trying to sell subject matter already made by lots of other companies. I carefully thought about the size, the look, the emotional impact our new line would have and how to make them clearly stand apart from other gift lines that were already in the stores.
The actual sculpture is roughed out in a soft clay. A mold is made from this original so that it can be replicated in a soft plaster. From here the sculpture is further refined, another mold is made on this piece and it is then cast in a harder plaster in which I carve the fine details. This process may be repeated five or more times before the sculpture is completely finished. The final sculpture is cast in tough epoxy resin so that it can withstand having the production molds being made from it. Very accurate and sophisticated mold making is needed to create our production molds. After the production pieces are cast from these molds the figurines are dried for as long as four weeks before painting.
Our production painters work at spray paint booths that were custom designed and built by us. Each painter may only apply one or two of the many layers of paint used to finish a piece.The paints we use are the best artist grade paints made and these may cost as much as three hundred dollars per gallon. Most of the time it takes to produce Windstone pieces is in the painting.
Question: Melody, what was it that got you started sculpting?
Melody: When I was very little I wanted to have a zoo so I figured out a way to sculpt my own little zoo animals out of aluminum foil and toilet paper to play with. Making toys is really what I am still doing, although now it is called sculpture and it is for grownups. My sculpture is still intended to straddle the line between art and playthings. Even though these Windstone creatures are just cast stone they are meant to relate to you emotionally as if they are your companions, like a doll or stuffed animal would.
Question: What has inspired you as an artist?
Melody: The possibilities of three dimensional art inspires me because it has a life-like presence. Even if it is an abstract non-objective sculpture, or something as common place as a chair, it bravely stands there holding itself together against the chaos of the world. I can relate to that. A sculpture has personality and a soul. It is almost impossible to not think of it as a living thing.
Question: How does it feel to be able to live off your artwork?
Melody: It feels great, usually. Making a living off of art can be extremely stressful and difficult at times, but I have always considered myself very, very lucky to have this career.
Question: What would you say to all the Elfwood members who nurture a dream of being able to live off their artwork?
Melody: This is a huge topic which I would love to rant about for pages, but in order to make this short here are my own very personal thoughts of what I look for in art: I think of art as being a form of communication directly from the soul of the artist to everyone in the world that is alive now and will be in the future.
What sets my heart afire is a "message" worth reading; fresh ideas, honest emotions and originality, executed with skill so that I can understand the message clearly. I want to experience another artist's thoughts, feelings and personality. I think that if you have these qualities in your art it can't help but be going in the right direction to produce a salable product. Marketable art will grab other people's hearts and not let go. If people love and identify themselves with the artist.s own unique marks on the planet they will yell and scream for more! This is the kind of art that has potential to support you.