Materials & Techniques

Akan Brass Casting

The Akan learned the technique of brass casting from their North African trading partners, enabling them to create figurative goldweights. Brass, a combination of copper and zinc, is easier to melt and cast than gold. Akan and Asante metalsmiths used two methods of casting, which involves pouring molten metal into a mold and allowing it to cool.

In direct casting a small object acted as the original model. Examples include seed pods, crab claws, insects, and seashells. The item was encased in clay and then fired. The object inside was incinerated, and the resulting mold was filled with molten metal. Although direct casting was practiced in Europe during the 16th century, Akan brasscasters are thought to have invented this technique independently.

The second, more common casting method is the lost-wax process. This began with an artist sculpting wax into a desired form. If the artist was making a large gold object, the original model would be wax covering a clay base. Thin layers of clay were applied to the wax surface to accurately capture its texture and details. When fired, the wax melted, leaving a sculptural cavity to be filled with molten metal. Once cooled, the mold was shattered in order to remove the cast object from its clay encasement. Each casting is a unique miniature sculpture.

Excerpt from

  • Roslyn Walker, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, Label text, 2018.

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