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— “You can imagine why I would go into a fire to save these things,” Raymond Gibby said, sifting through the surviving remains of what was his foundry in Garfield with his foot. The pieces on the ground are at least a month’s worth of work.

In the middle of the woods, where only the distant whistle of the train and the rhythmic tapping of the woodpecker can be heard, a man makes his living doing what he loves.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, Gibby, of Pea Ridge, received a call that his shop in Garfield was on fire. Five minutes later he arrived to find 12-foot flames escaping from one end of the metal building.

“I saw a huge plume of smoke, I was by the fire station in Garfield,” Gibby said. “When I got here, there was smoke coming out both sides.”

Gibby and his family - wife Aimee and five children, ages 10, 7, 5, 3 and 6 months - moved to Arkansas four years ago from Springville, Utah. He works full time as an artist.

Before moving here, Gibby worked in screenprinting, then happened to come across an ad for a foundry worker. He showed only his sketches, got the job right away and began working with metal.

“I had never worked with metal before, it was kind of an on-the-job training thing.

After three or four months, I was having the best times and getting paid more (than before),” he said.

He began working on hisown sculptures on the side, running them through the foundry in his own time.

“Most sculptors don’t do their own foundry work,” he said. “I had a full portfolio when I left there.”

Now, Gibby has his sculptures in galleries across thecountry, including Sante Fe, N.M., Park City, Utah, and Jackson Hole, Wyo.

When he came to Arkansas, Gibby discovered there was no facility in the state where he could cast his sculptures.

He built a structure onland owned by his parents, Raymond and Barbara Gibby, in Garfield three and a half years ago. He began foundry work once again, doing castings for other artists in the area as well. Part of the reason he rushed into the fire was to save theirwork, too.

“The reason I made it (the building) metal was because I thought it would be flame retardant,” he said. “I found out it needed insulation because it was freezing.”

Gibby used a spray on insulation inside the building.

“It said it was flame retardant with the proper thermal barrier. What does that mean, a concrete wall?” he said, sarcastically.

Gibby had just barely finished the slurry room, the room in which the ceramic shell is made in the casting process.

First, Gibby makes a sculpture out of clay or wood or anything, he says.

He then makes a rubber mold of the sculpture that becomes the master mold.

Wax is poured into the mold, then the ceramic shell is added on top of the wax, layer by layer. The ceramic shell alone takes about one week’s worth of work. The wax is then melted out of the shell and the bronze is poured in, completing the final product.

The bronze sculptures can be made again and again once the mold is made. But hundreds of molds are now destroyed.

“Insurance can’t re-sculpt my sculptures for me,” Gibby said, although the building and equipment were insured.

In surveying the damage to the shop, Gibby said the only thing left standing was a bronze moose, what his wife called a “regal looking moose.” The moose alone represented nearly four months of work. A monetary value cannot be put on the time, energy and ideas lost in the blaze.

“There’s so much plastic in here, things are just melted together,” he said, while his father pointed out the remnants of a nail gun that is now unrecognizable. A pile of papers near the door next to the kiln is the remains of reference material he had been collecting since he was 10 years old, along with magazines in which he was featured.

However, Gibby said themost sentimental thing he lost was not a mold or a tool, but his wedding ring, which he had taken off when a spark hit it while welding.

He set it on top of a shelf, right where he knew where it was, and the fire department’s gushing water buried it in the rubble.

When asked if he was going to rebuild, the answer was: “Definitely. What else can I do? I always did this without a backup plan because I knew I would take it.

“I live by one miracle to the next, and that’s literal. I go till the end of my money, then get another big job. But right now, it’s just hard to wake up in the morning.”

The last four years of his work is gone.

“How do I know this isn’t the best thing that’s ever happened to me? We’ve been finding out who really loves our family and I have never felt this close to my wife and kids,” Gibby said.

Gibby’s 10-year-old son, his oldest child, liked to help and began wax work of his own; he was saddened by the loss. His 3-year-old didn’t know what to make of the four fire trucks, police cars and ambulance down the road and was frightened.

People from the Gibby’s church, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Rogers, have shown astounding support for the family.

“On the first day, we had food at our door, people wanting to watch our kids and anonymous checks,” Gibby said.

Gibby was nervous about talking with the press; he feared his customers would find out about the fire without getting the whole story.

The whole story is this man, an artist making a living of what he loves, entered a burning building to save what he could for himself and for others. He has a plan to begin sculpting and get things going again. Regarding a trophy he’s working on for the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, he said with confidence: “He’ll get his project, and so will everyone else.”

Community, Pages 11 on 12/30/2009

Print Headline: Foundry fire destroys life’s work

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