From Art to Industry
The seven wonders of the world include two statues. It should not surprise anyone since sculpture is perhaps the oldest art form known to man. It certainly is the earliest one we engage in since toddlers often like to make things out of modeling clay or the commercial product known as Play-Dough. Statues exist dating back almost forty thousand years, with the oldest surviving statue being the Löwenmensch figurine from the Swabian Alps in Germany. Also known as the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, it stands a mere eleven inches and was carved from the ivory tusk of a woolly mammoth.
The Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel is an example of a human-like figure with a lion head; hence it is the oldest example of a zoomorphic statue as well. Man sculpted such statues for a number of reasons, many having to do with religion or spirituality. We think of sculptures or statues as being large works of art but then term also includes medal or coins. Regardless of their subject or their size, statues and other sculptures represent a three-dimensional portrayal of mankind’s living and thoughts.
These statues of our past are very important. They serve as scrapbooks of memories, beliefs, and actual people. Recent recreations based upon fragments of newly discovered statues have given us a chance to see what such noted figures as Johann Sebastien Bach really looked like. They also illustrate how man’s thinking has changed. All one has to do is compare the female Venus of Willendorf, circa 24,000 BCE to the Burney Relief of Old Babylonia which dates 1800 BCE to see how our perception of beauty has altered. [ I would have been very popular in Willendorf but not so much in Babylonia.]
Unfortunately, statues are fragile and subject to breakage. The earliest examples of sculpture are from the Aurignacian culture in Europe and southwest Asia. The Protoliterate Period in Mesopotamia was marked by figures sculpted in limestone and alabaster but these did not fare well through time and natural elements. The Egyptians were known for their larger than life sculptures as well as small refined statues but these were often the target of warring tribes and saw damage. The Greeks has small delicate female statues of bronze but again conflict was the demise of many of these. Even the Classical Period with its sculptures of bronze became victims of economy as bronze had many uses and statues were often melted down to become arms and weapons.
Though today we try to protect and display beautiful statues, they still subject to breakage. Any substance that can be carved and sculpted to create a work of art is also liable to be damaged. This was the dilemma that Patricia Billings sought to solve. An aspiring artist and sculptor she invented the first viable construction and industrial substitution for asbestos while in her mid-fifties, simply because she wanted to preserve her own statues.
Born in Missouri, Patricia Billings attended a community college in Austin, Texas and studied art. She made many of her sculptures out of plaster of Paris for three decades. One day months of work was destroyed when a statue of a swan broke and shattered. Determined to not ever have that happen again, Billings sought about to make her own concoction of plaster that would be hardier and not as easy to break.
Patricia Billings studied the history of her medium. She discovered that the artists of the Renaissance period had mixed plaster with a type of cement and she spent the next eight years trying to arrive at a successful mixture of her own. I don’t think this is the time to into a discussion right now about the difference between concrete and cement, the additive Michelangelo used with his paints to provide longevity to his work. The difference might seem minute but it really is quite interesting, especially when you consider how old one is compared to the other.
After eight years, Patricia Billings had the recipe she needed, using plaster of Paris that had gypsum and concrete added to it. She named her substance GeoBond, thinking it a type of glue that could be sculpted. Several years later a friend mentioned how resistant to heat the GeoBond was. Billings further perfected it and in 1997 received a patent.
The United States Air Force determined that GeoBond was virtually indestructible and could withstand temperatures up to 6500 degrees Fahrenheit. It has found a home in industry and is used today in the building of bridges, aircrafts, building materials, stucco, roof tiles, and insulation. GeoBond is very malleable and is also often used to patch highways and repair concrete.
Those who favor gender bias often use the role of women in the reproduction of the human race as a reason to keep them in domesticated positions and prevent them from obtaining an education. Patricia Billings is proof that a women can do both. This year she will celebrate her ninetieth birthday sand runs her Kansas City company as well as continues her art and enjoys her grandchildren and family. She recently invented a new product called CraftCote which is used in her first love – art. She encourages honesty and ethical business practices. ”Corporate America needs to clean up its act. The labeling on building materials for home construction is often erroneous, and the materials can be dangerous.”