Wizards of power cast in bronze

Gwen Chamberlain
Dexter Benedict with the figures of Edison and Steinmetz before he applied the patina.

Two more iconic American figures have been cast for historic purposes in sculptor Dexter Benedict’s Baker Road foundry.

Just this week, he loaded life-size sculptures of Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz, two of the founding fathers of electricity, onto a trailer and hauled them to Schenectady, where they will stand together, forever in a deeply charged discussion.

The statues will be unveiled Friday, May 22, in ceremony in a pocket park at Erie Boulevard and South Ferry Street in Schenectady,

Late last week Benedict took a break from preparing to apply the patina to the bronze cast figures which he began work on in December to talk about the project.

Although he was first approached about the project more than three years ago, once the decision was made to move forward, things moved pretty quickly, and he’s been living with the two genius electrical engineers since December.

“Sometimes things sit on a back burner for a while,” he says, matter-of-factly. To finish this project by the deadline for Friday’s unveiling, Benedict had to put a couple of other projects on hold, but now that they are finished, he can return to other things, and begin to think about sailing, one of his favorite pastimes.

A storyboard on which several photos of the two men are affixed sits next to the sculpture, and Benedict explains all he’s learned about his subjects, through the help of the technology of collective knowledge on the Internet. Just imagine what those two men would have had to say about that — and Google — perhaps the newest tool in Benedict’s studio.

While there is a wealth of information about Edison, there wasn’t quite as much about Steinmetz, but he’s a fascinating figure nonetheless, in more ways than one. For Benedict, Steinmetz’s stature was the puzzle. He was a man who stood well under 5 feet, with a back hunched and twisted by scoliosis.

Known as the Wizard of Schenectady, Steinmetz, a German mathematician, was a prolific inventor with more than 200 patents to his name, and who is credited with ground-breaking mathematical explanations of electricity that greatly spurred development. Steinmetz, who was born in Prussia, immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1889 shortly after receiving his Ph.D. after he wrote an article critical of the German government. He was nearly turned away at Ellis Island because of his deformity.

One of his patents was for a “system of distribution by alternating current.” Registered in January 1895, it was the world’s first three phase alternating current generator.

Edison, from New Jersey, moved his electric company to Schenectady in 1886. His company merged with General Electric in 1892, and the corporation became one of the world’s largest, employing nearly 40,000 people in Schenectady by World War II. Edison invented the first practical incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the movie camera, and more than 1,000 other creations. Edison was first to commercialize many key power generation and distribution technologies.

Benedict was chosen because of his previous work — a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson which was placed in Jamestown a few years ago.

Benedict was first commissioned to create an eight foot tall cast bronze statue of Justice Jackson for Jamestown about 20 years ago after being selected by Arts Council of Chautauqua County in a juried competition. That statue was unveiled in 1996 with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the guest speaker. In 2013 he created a bust of Jackson that was installed at the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C.

In creating a bronze casting, Benedict works first in clay to develop the form and then, using the lost wax process, casts the work in his foundry.

Benedict’s other work includes statues of Benjamin Franklin, and American businessman James Cash “J.C.” Penney Jr.

Benedict is retired after a career teaching art at Keuka College, and was honored with the title of Professor of Art, Emeritus. He continues to create new works as a full-time artist in addition to commissioned works and casting pieces for other sculptors.