During the current economic downturn, the Valley Bronze arts foundry in Joseph has managed to not only avoid layoffs but expand its staff because of the contract to work on part of the National World War II Monument it was awarded last spring. Add-ons to the original project contract has increased its value to Valley Bronze and the local economy from $1.7 million to $2.4 million.
"We're ahead of schedule," said foundry manager Lyle Isaak about the project. He said that the World War II monument work has enabled Valley Bronze to add about five positions despite what he described as a "soft" retail art market. About half of the foundry staff of about 55 is working specifically on fabricating a number of bronze components for the huge monument which is expected to cost about $190 million.
Isaak said right now the foundry is concentrating on casting the bronze oak and wheat that will hang from 56 stone columns of the "Freedom Wall" on the west side of the 7.3-acre WWII monument site.
The contract also includes the fabrication of 4,123 gold-plated stars (each representing 100 WWII servicemen and women), two monumental bas relief medallions and four water fountains. Add-ons which increased the scope of the project since the original bid include 48 six-ft. sections of twisted bronze rope and 25 bronze 3'x6' panels to which the stars will be attached. Originally the stars were to be attached directly to the stone wall.
The foundry will be involved in the installation of part of its work in the nation's capital next fall.
Janelle Stewart of Stewart Springs Ltd., a local drafting company, was instrumental in Valley Bronze's successful bid for a number of components of the huge monument, and she now has her office located in the foundry building in Joseph.
Stewart and Valley Bronze have teamed up to create a separate company, Metalmark Northwest, for joint ventures, and are also bidding on other decorative art fabrication jobs in the Washington, D.C. area.
Isaak said that the fine arts foundry, founded in Joseph in 1984, continues its traditional work of casting fine art pieces ranging in size from monumental to table top.
"We didn't want to let our artists down," said Isaak. "We've built our reputation on our long-term relationship with them."
However, Isaak admits that the retail art market has suffered in the last couple of years, and the ornamental fabrication work being done for the WWII memorial has been a real boost for the foundry and the Wallowa County economy.
Funded mostly by private donations, it will honor the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed services during WWII, the 400,000-plus who died and the millions who supported the war effort at home.