The Process of Creating a Fontanini Figure
|The creation of a Fontanini figure
spans two continents, from the suburban Chicago headquarters
of Roman, Inc. to the rolling hills of Bagni di Lucca in the
Tuscan region of Italy.
brainstorming session at Roman headquarters helps
the Fontanini team choose the best ideas for new
figures, buildings, and accessories.
Ideas for new pieces come from a variety of sources:
a Fontanini family member, Master Sculptor Elio Simonetti, a
Roman employee, a Fontanini Guild Dealer, or even a member of
the Fontanini Collectors’ Club.
Fontanini Team evaluates the current product selection and
gathers historical research to come up with a long list of
potential new pieces. When this list is narrowed down, an
artist sketches the first figure.
Master Sculptor Elio Simonetti has been sculpting
Fontanini figures for over 40 years using the same process.
With the artist’s sketch as a starting point, Simonetti
creates an actual-size clay sculpture. At this stage the art
is still in its most malleable form, and changes are easily
After the clay sculpture has been approved by the
Fontanini family, Simonetti prepares a highly detailed model
in beeswax. This substance is much harder than clay and makes
the perfect medium to create the master molds.
the beeswax model, a clay sculpture is placed in a glass
enclosure, and liquid rubber is poured around the sculpture.
After several hours the walls are removed, the hardened rubber
is cut in half, and the clay piece inside is removed. The
rubber halves are then joined again and placed inside the
hollowed-out rubber form is filled with beeswax mixture. A
vacuum removes air bubbles that might be trapped inside.
Inside the form, the beeswax conforms precisely to the imprint
left by the clay. The end result is a wax model which will be
used to create highly detailed figure molds.
After the wax sculpture is completed, Simonetti’s
youngest son, Raffaello, begins the mold-making process. He
positions the wax model against a piece of clay that will form
the base of the mold. Raffaello then encases half the figure
in clay or liquid rubber. He reverses the figure and repeats
the process to create the second half of the mold. Upon
completion of this mold, Raffaello creates a plaster figure
for the final production molds. The final molds are made from
either metal or rubber. Metal molds are used to produce the 2½",
5", 7 ½", and 12" figures.
|Rubber molds are used
for the 20", 27", and 50" figures. Both
processes are identical until the completion of Raffaello’s
first plaster figure. A single mold can take up to two years
to complete and cost thousands of dollars. This metal mold is
then used for figure production. Over time, the mold may
undergo some refinements to ensure quality. When refinements
can no longer be made, the mold is retired.
the master molds ready for production, the figure can be cast
in polymer. This unique compound captures every detail of the
original, yet it is extremely resistant to chipping, nicking,
or breaking once hardened. Polymer’s durability ensures that
these exquisite figures are rugged enough to be handled by
children for generations to come.
|To create the figure,
liquid polymer is forced into the carefully crafted mold at
high temperatures and pressure. After an initial cooling
period, the figure emerges from the mold still warm and
pliable, and it could warp if not cooled properly. A two-hour
bath of continuously running cold water cools the figure.
Artisans work from their Home Pages in Bagni di Lucca, Italy to
hand paint the Fontanini figures using skills that have been
passed down from generation to generation. In some cases,
grandmother, mother, and daughter work side by side in the
family Home Page, applying hues from the rich Tuscan palette. In
general, several pieces are painted at the same time.
|The women line the
pieces up on large tables and paint a single part of every
piece. For example, first they will paint all the pants, then
all the shirts, then all the shoes, and so on. The only part
of the figure that they do not paint is the eyes. A different
group of painters detail the figures’ faces so that the
desired expression of awe and reverence is captured.
Patina is a dark brown compound of burnt oils, oil,
burnt earth, lime and other ingredients. This compound is
applied to the figure with a brush, covering it almost
entirely. The figure is wiped with a cloth and placed in
a tub of special soaps. Finally, it is removed from the tub
and carefully wiped dry.
|As the patina is
applied to the figures it bonds with the material and cannot
be removed, making the figure non-toxic and great for families
to enjoy. The completed figure is then inspected, packed, and
sent to Roman.
|The Story Card
To allow the new figure the fullest opportunity to tell
his or her own story, the Story Card is not written until
after the figure is sculpted. After researching ancient
Bethlehem and considering the existing cast of Fontanini
Nativity characters, the Story Card author composes a tale
about the new figure that will enchant collectors as it
teaches them about real life at the time of Jesus’ birth.
The Story Card is the last step is the process of crafting a
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