Bronze sculptor perfects her process with the help of tech and Hatchfund


Bronze sculptor Mischell Riley

Bronze sculpting dates back to 2,500 B.C., but within the last few decades, the art form has taken a turn towards tech. Sculptor and Hatchfund artist Mischell Riley has learned first-hand how computer programs, advances in 3D technology, and online crowd funding have changed the way art is made.

Riley has been creating life-size monuments for over 30 years. But when she wanted to make her works larger-than-life, she needed some help. She first apprenticed under Snell Johnson, a sculptor whose works includes the famous, 45-foot tall bronze lion in front of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“It’s always been my dream to do large than life-size sculptures,” said Riley. “But before I could learn the whole technology from Snell Johnson, he passed away.”

Riley tried to figure out a workaround without knowing Johnson’s full process. She sliced up a smaller version of the sculpture, scanned the slices into a computer, and then projected them on a wall and molded rebar in the shape of the projection.

“We tried that with ‘Inside the Mind of DaVinci,’ and it didn’t work so well,” said Riley. “There was a lot of distortion. I had to sculpt it from scratch by hand.’”

The DaVinci piece was eventually successful, but the process wasn’t as efficient as Riley needed it to be. She decided to head to the University of Nevada at Reno and talked to Tod Colegrove, Dean of DeLaMare Engineering Library.

Colegrove introduced Riley to a tech tutor at the university who helped her figure out a more efficient digital process for her next piece, “Maya’s Mind.”

The stages of ‘Maya’s Mind.’

Through a series of steps that included a 3D scanner, Blender and MeshMixer, Riley and her husband, a structural engineer, were able to take Riley’s smaller sculpture and create a digital rendering of it to use for creating larger-scale renderings.

“I was really pleased with Maya Angelou. We worked out some bugs, we’re still not perfected on this process, but we’re working on it,” said Riley.

But once the technology was figured out, there was still the matter of funding.

“I’ve always done monuments for men and about men. I’ve always wanted to do Maya Angelou, Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart, but I never had the money,” said Riley. “I applied for grants and would never even get a response. After doing ‘DaVinci,’ I learned how to fundraise through Hatchfund.”

Hatchfund is an online community where artists can post projects for funding, recieve grants and connect with those who love and support art. The goal of the Omaha-based organization is to help artists successfully navigate the challenging world of online fundraising through their educational and hands-on approach.

Riley explained that most of the time when an artist connects with a donor who wants to contribute a large amount, the donor will require their money go to a nonprofit for the tax benefit, a requirement that Hatchfund fills.

“I’m not a nonprofit,” said Riley. “I’m just an artist trying to make things happen. Through Hatchfund, [I can receive money from donors] who won’t donate unless it’s through a nonprofit.”

Riley said that Hatchfund is also a great way for artists to support one another and for artists to stay connected to their everyday supporter base.

“Most of my donors are fans or from the Burning Man community,” said Riley. “[Donating through Hatchfund] gives them a clear way to donate and get an incentive. It’s nice to give them a little perk.”

This month, Riley’s Maya Angelou sculpture is making the journey from Reno, Nevada to Washington D.C. She’s launched another Hatchfund campaign to assist in the journey.

Riley is hoping to translate the success of her pieces into scholarship funds for women. Funds from the Maya Angelou project will go to art scholarships and upcoming Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart sculptures will help fun science and aviation scholarships, respectively.

“I want to make a difference when a little girl goes to a park, she doesn’t only see statues of men,” said Riley. “My mission and my mission in life now are to make monuments and raise scholarships for women, and raise awareness of great women in the United States.”


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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Director of Silicon Prairie News.