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  • Writer's pictureLisa Lehman Trager

Bedi-Makky Art Foundry - A perfect partnership

Updated: Jan 22

Harold Lehman with sculpture he's working on in the 1980s.
Harold Lehman. 1980s.

Many people don’t realize that my father, Harold Lehman, started out as a sculptor.  Even though he became known for his Post Surrealist paintings, and then later as a muralist for the WPA, throughout his life, he continued to create sculpture. 

 

I had always been curious about two molds made of concrete in the collection of Lehman artwork. They were created in the 1940s most likely when my dad was living in Woodstock, New York.  In my lifetime, I had never seen positive sculptures from these molds, so it was a mystery if sculptures were ever created and if so, what they may have looked like.

Paradise and Rooster original concrete molds by Harold Lehman.
Original concrete molds used to cast Paradise and Rooster.

My curiosity grew. And as it did, I started to imagine what the final sculptures could look like. There were challenges with each of the molds.  Paradise was designed in a circle but, not all the parts were connected.  Rooster I pictured mounted on a spike as if flying and wanted a very specific patina.  

 

I researched foundries in the New York metropolitan area.  Bill Makky of the Bedi-Makky Art Foundry was the perfect fit. Not only did Bill bring a combination of technical expertise and creativity to the project, but the Bedi-Makky Foundry has been in business creating sculpture for over 100 years, so it felt good working with company so steeped in tradition. Just some examples of work done by the foundry include the Charging Bull on Wall Street, by Arturo Di Modica, the Iwo Jima War Memorial by Felix de Weldon, and the Peace Fountain by Greg Wyatt located at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. 


Bill Makky standing in front of Bedi-Makky Foundry in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Bill Makky standing in front of Bedi-Makky Foundry in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Bill Makky, Owner of Bedi-Makky Foundry.
Bill Makky, Bedi-Makky Foundry.

I knew I was in the right place when I saw shelves stocked with bronze casts that were done for all different types of artists over the decades. A wall was lined with original tools used by his father and previous owners of the Foundry. Once Bill began telling me about the history of the Foundry, I became even more intrigued.


The final sculptures of Rooster and Paradise came out even better than I ever imagined.  A true partnership between my dad, me, and Bill. 




Rooster by Harold Lehman. Bronze.

1940s, Woodstock, NY.

Rooster by Harold Lehman. Bronze. 1940s, Woodstock, NY.

Paradise by Harold Lehman. Bronze.

1940s, Woodstock, NY.

Paradise by Harold Lehman. Bronze. 1940s Woodstock, NY.

History of the Bedi-Makky Art Foundry

The steel age took over northern Brooklyn, NY between 1910-1920s.  During this period, a wide array of metal manufactures set up large and small plants over this ten square mile area of Greenpoint.  Brooklyn became famous for the iron, bronze, and brass products it created for everything from practical household items like needles to ornamental artwork, battleships for war and monuments for peace.   According to an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, dated May 20, 1911, at that time, the value of the metal industry creating these products was over $100,000,000 per year.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle. May 24, 1911. Article tells history of Brooklyn's iron, bronze and brass industries in the early 1920s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,
Brooklyn Daily Eagle. May 24, 1911.

At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century a great wave of immigrants arrived in the United States Most were from eastern and southern Europe countries who were seeking political asylum and religious freedom. Included in this wave were over one million Hungarian immigrants who landed on the shores of New York City. The original owner, of the Bedi-Makky Foundry, Anton Kunst was one of those Hungarian immigrants.  However, Kunst came to New York by way of France, where he had learned casting techniques developed for the artist, Auguste Rodin. Since Rodin wanted to create multiples of his work, depending upon the sculpture, either sand casting or the lost-wax bronze casting method was used.

 

When Kunst arrived in New York, around 1910, there were only a few companies that cast bronze.  The most well-known are Gorham Manufacturing Company and Roman Bronze Foundry.  Most of the workers were Hungarian, because they had first worked as laborers in foundries in France or Italy.  At that time in Europe, neither the artists nor the owners of these foundries took a real interest in the technical aspects of creating the bronze casts. Getting their hands dirty creating the molds and casts was seen as “beneath them.” That technical knowledge was handed down usually by father to son by the workers in the foundries, and they brought this knowledge with them when they immigrated to New York.


Catalogue from Ettl Studios.
Catalogue from Ettl Studios.

Kunst’s first job was working for artists making plaster casts of their clay sculpture.  Although there were a few foundries in New York, in the early 1900s most artists shipped their plaster casts back to Italy to be cast into bronze. Soon Kunst met Alex  J. Ettl, a master mold maker and caster, who was also from Hungary.  Ettl became recognized for his monumental castings at the Chicago World’s Fair, and in 1918 opened his own business, Sculpture House Casting, which manufactured precision sculpting tools and modeling clays.  Eventually, Ettl created a sub-division of his company, Standard Clay Mines, located at a farm he had purchased in New Jersey. Rather than continue to import clay from Italy, he sourced raw clays from Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and other states.  Ettl became a millionaire from the business, and it’s thought that he helped to finance Kunst in creating his own foundry, which eventually became Bedi-Makky Foundry.


Advertisement for Anton Kunst Art Foundry in the Liberator October 1921.
Advertisement for Anton Kunst Art Foundry in the Liberator October 1921.

Kunst set up his business in Manhattan on East 76th Street near the East River. One day when Kunst was at the shipping dock, perhaps waiting to either send one of the plaster casts overseas, or to pick up a finished bronze, he saw a ship that had just arrived from France.  On the pier were ballasts from the ship filled with sand used to help the crew balance the ship at sea when carrying heavy supplies.


Schooners and square-riggers crowd the wharves of New York City to be loaded and unloaded, c. 1900. Courtesy of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
New York City wharf. 1900. Courtesy of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

Curious, Kunst ripped open one of the ballasts and found sand, which was like what he had used years ago when casting Rodin’s sculpture in Paris.  As the crew no longer needed it, they told him to help himself.  Kunst brought back to the foundry as much of the sand as he could haul and began making molds in his foundry using the same French sand technique he had used in Rodin’s studio.  The first sculptures that Kunst cast with the sand were small sculptures, medallions, and plaques.  Eventually he imported more French sand to make larger casts.  



Eugene Bedi working on the Iwa Jima War Memorial. Courtesy of Bedi-Makky Foundry. Photographer: Bettman.
Eugene Bedi working on the Iwa Jima War Memorial. Courtesy of Bedi-Makky Foundry.

By 1940, Eugene Bedi and Joseph Rassy who had been working for Kunst, took over the foundry and changed the name to Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry.  They moved the foundry to 227 India Street in Greepoint, Brooklyn.  In addition to smaller jobs working with artists, they also began getting more substantial commissions for large scale monuments.  In 1951 they were commissioned by the US Marine Corps to cast the monument by sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, which became the Iwa Jima War Memorial. It took Bedi and Rassy nearly three years to complete and transport the bronze sculpture from Brooklyn to Washington DC.  According to the US War Memorial website, “After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished, and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces--the largest weighing more than 20 tons--and brought back to Washington, D.C., by a three-truck convoy. Here they were bolted and welded together, and the statue was treated with preservatives.”

 

Istvan Makky, former owner of Bed-Makky Foundry.
Istvan Makky

In 1956, a young Hungarian immigrant, Istvan Makky started working for the company and by 1970 he bought out Rassy, updating the name of the foundry to what it is today, Bedi-Makky Art Foundry.  The techniques and methods used throughout the years have been handed down from one generation to the next.  Makky’s son, Bill, is now the 4th owner of the Foundry.

 

Bedi-Makky Art Foundry Today

The Bedi-Makky Foundry is still located at its original location on India Street. Bill is also still using the same French sand-casting method, as well as the traditional lost wax technique used by Anton Kunst.  The four tons of French sand used by Bill today in casting bronze sculpture -- is the same sand that Kunst started the business with. As Bill said, “When I tell my clients that their artwork is being cast with the same material going back over one hundred years, they feel honored to be a part of this tradition.” Bill prefers to keep with the more traditional methods and projects than to compete with larger corporate foundries.


Bill Makky with original casting tools and French sand brought by Anton Kunst.
Bill Makky with original casting tools and French sand brought by Anton Kunst.

For Bill, owning the business handed down to him by his father is special.  He’s been working at the foundry since he was a teenager, coming in on weekends and after school to learn the business from his dad. Even as a child he recalls his father bringing him to see the big jobs created at the foundry like monuments, being installed on location.  “My dad always took pride in the work that he did.”

 

In November 2016, Istvan died in a car accident.  “This was a job he loved and would still be working here today,” said Bill.  That same day, Bill carried on the work that had to be done and continues doing every phase of what it takes, almost single-handedly, to cast bronze sculptures today.  Like his father, Bill also has a love for what he does.  When asked what traits are needed to own a business like this, Bill said, “It’s a little bit of everything.  It’s technical, with engineering involved.  You must be an artisan and have an artist’s eye.  But you also must be strong as there’s a lot of manual labor involved.  You have to be able to do it all.”

 

For Bill the best part of the job are the challenges. “Trying to figure out how to do things that have never been done and the customer being pleased with the work.  For me, that’s the greatest reward.” 


 

Watch videos to learn more about Bedi-Makky Foundry:


 

References:

 

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