Millions Lost In Overnight Fire At Cody Bronze Art Foundry, 100% Loss Says Owner

Millions of dollars of art and equipment were destroyed in an overnight fire at the Caleco Foundry in Cody. The establishment, one of only two bronze foundaries in Wyoming was totally gutted. One artist says he lost over $5 million worth of art.

AR
Andrew Rossi

May 30, 20246 min read

A bronze statue of Wyoming State Senator Hank Coe stands amid the charred remains of the Calceo Foundry. The cause of the overnight fire that destroyed everything inside is under investigation.
A bronze statue of Wyoming State Senator Hank Coe stands amid the charred remains of the Calceo Foundry. The cause of the overnight fire that destroyed everything inside is under investigation. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

The Caleco Foundry in Cody was gutted by an intense fire Wednesday morning that destroyed nearly everything inside the metal-frame structure.

The bronze art foundry, a facility where metal castings are produced, has been an invaluable resource for Wyoming bronze artists for almost 50 years is now completely gone.

Authorities say the fire started late Tuesday night and raged until 5 a.m. Wednesday. An investigation into its cause is underway, but the devastation is total.

“It’s a 100% loss,” said owner Bucky Hall, who founded the business in 1978. “There’s a chance that the frame of the building is salvageable, but there’s nothing salvageable inside. It’s all gone.”

Hall and a few of his staff were looking through the building to see if anything was recoverable in the fire's aftermath. Even the metal frames holding up the roof were warped from the intense heat.

“I was going to retire, and I had it up for sale for a while,” Hall said. “Guess I’m retired now.”

 A Devastating Loss

For decades, the foundry has been one of the go-to foundries for Wyoming bronze artists. Statues created there still stand across Wyoming and in countless homes and museums.

Cody bronze artist Tanner Loren worked at Caleco for 20 years as a welder and metal chaser while using the foundry for his artistic commissions. He’s still struggling with the magnitude of the loss.

“I was there the day before dropping off bronzes for another artist,” he said. “Now, they are destroyed in the fire. It’s a devastating loss to the Wyoming bronze community.”

Loren said he received several late-night calls while the fire was raging. The foundry’s staff and patrons were helpless as the fire consumed the molds and machinery inside.

When he arrived the next morning, Loren got a brief glimpse inside the foundry. Shattered plaster molds covered the ground outside the doors and windows, while the rest of the interior was burned beyond recognition.

“The whole ceiling is sagging like a circus tent,” he said.  “I wouldn't be surprised if it collapses in on itself. It looked like a bomb had been detonated inside.”

In Tears

The only indication of what kind of business occupied the building was a life-size statue of the late Wyoming State Senator Hank Coe that survived the inferno.

Loren said he and several other artists are still in shock. The immensity of their current and future loss will take some time to sink in fully.

“An artist that showed up Wednesday morning was in tears,” he said. “He said he’d lost $5 million of his work overnight.”

The Heartbreaking Thing

Artist Chris Navarro has been a bronze sculptor for 45 years. He’s been working with Caleco since the beginning of his career and estimated that 95% of his sculptures were poured there.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve traveled to Cody over the last 44 years,” he said. “They were the only foundry in Wyoming for a while. Caleco poured my my first piece, and I built a relationship with them.”

Navarro had several bronze sculptures at Caleco when the fire occurred, but he’s hopeful they may be recovered. The “heartbreaking thing” for him and several other artists is the loss of the molds that were undoubtedly destroyed.

Loren described molds as “the life’s work” of a bronze artist. He and Navarro lost several molds in the Caleco fire.

“Every bronze sculpture is based on a wax replica destroyed in the pour,” Navarro said.

“The mother mold is made out of silicone rubber and is backed with plaster or fiberglass that holds the integrity of the sculpture. You can get dozens of sculptures from a single mold.”

Regardless of what is and isn’t salvageable, the loss of decades of work by dozens of renowned bronze artists is only magnified by the loss of the foundry. For Navarro and many others, one of the most critical aspects of their careers was lost overnight.

“The business is not going to come back from this,” he said. “It's just sad.”

A Dying Art

Caleco was one of only two bronze foundries in Wyoming. Another foundry may be constructed in Cody to replace Caleco, but Hall said he won’t be leading the charge.

“My staff like their jobs and doing the work, so I’ll give them direction and advice,” he said. “But I’m 73. I’m not starting another foundry.”

Hall estimated it would take around $40,000 to start a “mom and pop” bronze foundry. Replicating the exact size and sophistication of Caleco would require a much larger investment.

Both Loren and Navarro said the loss of any foundry profoundly impacts the bronze sculpture community. They and the other artists who relied on Caleco will have to find other foundries to continue their work, which are getting fewer and far between.

“A lot of foundries were already on a pretty thin margin, and there have been (dozens) closed around the country since COVID-19,” Loren said. “There’s not a lot left. Every time a foundry closes, all those artists have to go to another foundry."

Loren knows discussions about establishing a new foundry in Cody have already started, but he’s also aware of the immensity of constructing, funding, and operating such an enterprise. He believes it’ll take years to bring back what’s been lost at Caleco.

“As an artist,” he said, “I would love to help get something started. But I don’t necessarily want to be the one who runs it and owns it because I want to work on my own art. Running a foundry (like Caleco) is a full-time job.”

It’s also “a dying art,” according to Navarro. Bronze foundries are dirty, dangerous places to work, and he believes there’s less interest in those kinds of jobs as the years roll on.

“A foundry in Billings burned down a few years ago,” he said. “There’s Eagle Bronze in Lander, and a few in Loveland, Colorado. Casting bronze sculptures is a dirty business. So much work is involved, and it's hard to find employees.”

In the meantime, all the impacted artists can do is hope to salvage what they can while they look for another foundry to continue their careers. Loren has just started his own studio, and having Caleco “in my backyard” was an immense asset.

“I can do almost everything myself, but I needed Caleco for the bronze pouring,” he said. “Now that I don't have that, I don't know what's going to happen. It's a bad dream that I keep hoping will turn out not to be true.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.