Bernson's Corner: Portraits fit for a coin - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bernson's Corner: Portraits fit for a coin

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Portraying the human face has been the object of artists, going back thousands of years.

In Bernson's Corner – Barry Bernson introduces us to a one-of-a-kind portrait artist.  She is an artist who just may have been born a century or two too late.

Donna Weaver would have been happy to work the 18th and early 19th centuries.   In her studio in Vevay, Indiana, she creates miniature portraits in wax.   It is a style of art that pretty much died off around the time of the American Civil War. 

And what killed it?  Weaver says, "photography. By 1860, the average soldier could afford his own photograph, and you could get it in an hour."

Ms. Weaver is dedicated to detail.  She'll settle on a face she likes.  She was working on Sir Isaac Brock, an obscure British general in the War of 1812, when Bernson visited.

First she translates it into clay, makes a plaster or rubber mold from that, and finally, pour in a special mixture of molten wax.

"I make the wax out of four different waxes, plus pigment and talc," and she says, "I end up making my own tools a lot. And this is what takes 20-40 hours to do."  Weaver doesn't use anything fancier than a dowel stick. 

She says her goal is to trick the eye into believing the flat works of art are three-dimensional. And she doesn't think anybody else is working in this kind of format.

Ms. Weaver is hooked on American heroes.  Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, Frederick Douglass, Mr. Franklin, Jane Austen and even a less-than-handsome Dolley Madison are her favorite subjects.

Before Donna sits down to work on the clay, she has to decide if her subject will be facing this way or this way.  She could just flip a quarter: one of hers.

Working for the United States Mint over the past decade, Ms. Weaver designed and sculpted a dozen of the quarters in the state series including Mississippi, Illinois and Michigan..."

Look very closely and you'll see her initials -- D.W. -- at the very bottom of the coin's image.   Ms. Weaver has also created bullion coins, and all kinds of commemorative gold and silver medals .  She did one for George W. Bush's second inaugural. And a recent work honored the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts. 

So check your pocket and your piggy bank.  It's a safe bet that you already own the work of an artist whose money... is the best money can buy.

If you're interested in having Ms. Weaver do a wax portrait of yourself or someone else -- the original costs $1,500 to $2,000.  But copies after that are just $50 each.

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