Lewes artist Kristen Visbal combines technology and aesthetics to create sculpture

January 23, 2014

Lewes artist Kristen Visbal recently completed a mid-size rendition of the nautical work, "Goddess of The Sea." The sculpture, an eight-year collaboration for a public sculpture for Myrtle Beach, S.C., was originally the idea of South Carolina businessman Buz Plyler.

Visbal submitted her winning design in 2005 and then began the long campaign to raise funds for the eventual bronze casting, which included the creation of Myrtle Beach’s own 501c3 organization, The Myrtle Beach Downtown Public Art Initiative. The 6-foot-7-inch composition, to be enlarged to either 12 or 15 feet, depicts a mermaid and two dolphins amidst a swirl of water.

The composition was designed for the Gay Dolphin Park, so named in the 1930s. The final enlarged work is to be unveiled in late summer 2014.  Using a process called digital enlargement, the mid-size form was enlarged from a 21-inch original model. This process, which originated in Italy 16 years ago, uses a robotic arm to carve stiff blocks of plastic foam in the shape originally created by the artist. The artist receives the form in blocks which must be assembled and the details and undercuts recarved. Then clay is applied to the entire surface, and the detail is modeled back in.

Typically, the digital enlargement process requires that the smaller work be molded and a resin or wax cast be made from the mold. The wax or resin, a harder substance than clay, can be handled, in order to scan every inch of the surface into a computer. The level of detail wrought from the process is directly related to the robotic carving arm used and the customized program cultivated.

The real benefit of digital enlargement is the elimination of human error and the accuracy at which it duplicates the artist’s form without the use of time-consuming and antiquated enlargement methods.  The lightweight, digitized form is easily handled, cut and adjusted at the artist’s will.

"Goddess of the Sea" is the first procurement of the Myrtle Beach Downtown Public Art Initiative, created to commission the "Goddess" work and to reinvent the landscape of Myrtle Beach through art. Visbal is a member of the National Sculpture Society and the American Women Artists. Visbal was one of the last apprentices to attend the prestigious Johnson Atelier foundry adjacent to Grounds for Sculpture Park in Mercerville, N.J.

After 32 years, the Johnson Atelier closed in summer 2004 amidst the flurry of an aluminum pour. The Atelier, affectionately called so by its apprentices, was world renowned for its apprentice program in the study of lost-wax (cire perdue) casting. Visbal has worked from a modeling studio at the Nassau Valley Vineyards near Lewes since January 1999. The 6-foot-7-inch model is available in a limited edition of five. The miniature model can be viewed online at