Behrends Group of Companies has built its legacy on bronze and our experience with this long-lasting medium has catapulted us to the forefront of the signage industry in Canada. From our decades of work in the Foundry industry we have become signage pioneers and having built this stable foundation, we have now gone on to lead the industry in architectural signage and experiential graphic design as well. Obviously, since bronze has been our passion for so long, and it continues to be an integral part of the important work we do, we thought we’d share some of our favourite things about this special medium.
Bronze will outlive everything else. Based on bronze’s durability but relative economical pricing, environmental historians predict that bronze is one of the materials most likely to survive virtually anything that happens to the earth, including a mass nuclear disaster or environmental destruction brought on by climate change. Even barring those unfortunate circumstances, bronze is not often pillaged from historical sites to the extent that precious metals like gold and silver are in times of war or dynastic change.
Bronze has its own “Age”. This historical time period is named the Bronze Age because of the characteristic and widespread use of the metal by human civilizations. The exact timing of the Bronze Age ranges across the world but it is roughly 3300-1200 BCE. It is amazing to note that the use of bronze since this period has actually never been interrupted in human history since. Archaeological evidence of bronze items from around the world generally find it to have been made from combinations of metals like tin, arsenic and other metals with copper in varying proportions.
Bronze is an alloy. As mentioned above, bronze is usually made by combining copper and tin which means that bronze is not its own metal but is commonly called an alloy. Copper alone is far too soft to make tools or decorative elements from and tin is known for being very brittle and breakable. Through the process of creating the metal alloy of bronze, the result is much harder, less brittle and far longer-lasting.
Bronze armour was a precursor to bronze statues. Perhaps one of the most famous applications for bronze is in statue work whether we are talking about ancient Egyptian ones or more modern sculptures cast in the alloy by such famous artists as Rodin. However, before human beings created bronze statues, bronze was a coveted material for war armour. It was both stronger and surprisingly lighter than leather and wood armours, and became popular for these purposes as early as 3000 BCE in central Asia. It was only a matter of time before the armour (which would stand upright in storage during times of peace) would stimulate the idea to create human-form sculptures as an expressive art form.
There is remarkably little ancient bronze. Even though we hear a lot about archaeologists finding many bronze artifacts that give us clues into various human civilizations throughout history, there is actually a lot less of these relics around than you would think which tells us that its use was even more widespread than the prevalence of artifacts would have us believe. This is because before the development of corrosion-prevention techniques in the modern period, bronze would turn green and develop patinas as it corroded in the air around it. The more copper that was used in the alloy, the more corrosion that was likely to occur. Historically, when this happened, people usually sold corroded items back to a bronze smith to melt them down and recycle them into new objects. These days, there are ways to either mimic the development of patinas or prevent them from occurring.
Bronze is the alloy of Empire. It might be something you had only loosely contemplated, but bronze is the alloy of empire, dynasties and governments who want to create an authoritative, lasting impression of their legacy and power. Throughout history, bronze has been used extensively in traditional coinage systems (which was an early tool of empire “branding,” to use modern terms), bells (which would alter the soundscape and remind of either religious or secular authority several times per day), weaponry (which was obviously used to display the hard power of a governing family or body), as well as monuments and statues (which are used to tell specific stories about empire and to cultivate a narrative around it). Due to bronze’s longevity and its sense of presence, it is the chosen medium for governing groups to brand themselves in history and today.