Henry Alvarez. Just his name alone
invokes head nods and wide eyes from just about anyone familiar with
his work. Henry's career spans four decades and he's been busy
the whole time. Bronze, latex, wax, you name the medium and
Henry has done it. Henry is a very friendly and
gracious man. Very much family oriented, he would be the first
to tell you how much his family has helped his career and many of
them work with him in his studio. Henry took some time out of
his busy schedule to give us a history of where is talent has taken
him and where he has yet to go. The pictures he sent pretty
much speak for themselves.
You spent a lot of time in artistic endeavors growing up. What did
you create as a boy?
I was always drawing as a kid and the
great comic book covers were very inspirational. I was always
copying them and the Sunday Funnies were a must! Prince Valiant and
the Phantom were definitely a must see. The most inspirational was
Walt Disney! I was going to work for him when I grew up. That was my
dream goal, to work for him.
He had a magical place where not only
one could draw, but where your drawings become animated cartoons
and better yet, they became three dimensional at the DISNEYLAND
PARK! It was very magical to see and touch all the great sculptures
Besides drawing, I did a lot of wood
carving. I had a little business, carving “Tiki-Gods” for the local
surfers to wear around their necks. You should’ve seen the
“bone-chilling” cuts I inflicted on myself, learning how to use
pocket knifes that always seem to fold back at the wrong time!
Then I found some old magazines with
all these pictures of monsters in them, (famous Monsters) and being
that I had trouble reading, (A very slow reader) I absorbed the
imagery. Now, not
having any knowledge of sculpting or mask making,
my first efforts consisted of using “chicken-wire” and newspaper. I
shaped the chicken wire and then applied home-made paper mache’ over
it. When it dried, I painted it with poster paints.
I made these giant heads of
Frankenstein’s Monster and the Saucer man from the film, Invasion of
the Saucer men.
Moving on in time, a neighbor had
his backyard filled with sand and clay from the local shooting
range. I discovered this natural clay! I love working with my hands
and this was a whole new medium to express myself in! The only
disappointing thing about it was, it was not permanent.
Not to get too crazy with the
“inspiration” bit, but life in general amazed me. Frogs, snakes,
birds, fish, and for an even greater wonder, have you ever looked
into a fish’s mouth? Fantastic forms! Nature and all its creations
were, and continue to, fill the mind with awe.
did your parents react to your interest:
You know, I think they just sorta
took it in stride. I had quite a large family. Four sister’s and
two brothers who have artistic talent, so at first my folks did not
think much about my interest until I got into the monsters stuff.
Kinda went against my mom’s religious up bringing. Not that she or
my dad tried to sway me away from it, they just praised the more
“normal” and less threatening art. As I grew into a young man, they
saw that I was really interested in all forms of art and gave me a
lot of encouragement. My dad, being the father he is, also warned me
that an “Artist’s” life at making money was gonna be pretty hard. He
was always offering me the option of becoming a “longshoreman.”
Pretty good income and great job security, but did not fit my
my mother and father helped put me through college, (obtaining an
“Associate In Arts Degree) and later, loaning me money to start my
there any artists that inspired you when you were young?
Disney was a big inspiration, plus the numerous artists that drew
for the comic books. I did not memorize the artist’s names as much
as the images. They came later. It was the imagery that stuck in my
mind. I also recall that I really like the realistic drawing that
was done for the comic books that I only recall as being titled
CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. That’s where I saw the Hunchback of Notre
Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and so on. Those were my cherished
What has contributed most to your success,
natural talent, hard work, great mentors, other?
I believe that
all the above apply. The “Talent” was nurtured by many individuals I
have met throughout my life. Someone who bought a piece of my work,
be it a drawing or a small wood carving or whatever, this was
teacher, who took the extra time to work with a very shy, person.
Professional artists, who took the chance on hiring me to perform
artistic works for them. All these and many more contribute to the
Hard work, yes, compromise and
sacrifice too. As A kid, I would walk many miles down to the beach
to watch local artists paint seascapes, buildings, etc. I learned
that you have to devote time to become good at something, no matter
what it is. I worked in a florist shop for fifty cents an hour
because I admired flowers and their beauty, and to watch what the
artists there, did with them. I worked as a kid, cutting lawns and
delivering newspapers so I could buy comics and drawing materials.
All this contributed to my values and methods in my adult career.
I had a great opportunity to work
under the tutelage of the late, great, Katherine Marie Stubergh. Not
only was she a great artist/sculptor, she had a great influence on
the way I look at life and art.
She was modest about her talent, yet
knew how much value publicity played in terms of the success of
selling her various products. She was down to earth and very real in
her observations on life. She not only created wax figures, she
created bronze memorials, floats for parades, State and World fair
exhibitions, traveling road shows, and film work , just to name a
few. She provided art work for films such as “House of Wax” with
Vincent Price, portrait busts, like the one of Charlie Chaplin, in
the film, “The Great Dictator”, the figure of Maureen O’Hara for
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Charles Laughton, and many more.
Knowing that she did all this and
more, makes it believable for myself to attempt the same.
career has been immensely inspired by her and I have tried different
areas of art due to her teachings and beliefs. I have a vast
collection of publicity and studio photos on her career. I had about
three years of actually working with her, and a lot of her history
was crammed into that time period. I was naïve and curious enough to
ask questions when we were alone in the studio, that I guess she
took a liking to me. Almost like a son, but not quite. Katherine,
was the biggest influence, artistically and sculpturally , in my
LMC: You seem to have a family of artists. Is
it natural talent that runs through the family, or do you train
Well, it is part natural talent and part training. Every area of art
is demanding and there are many different types of personalities
needed to do them. For example, in sculpture, you can get pretty
fast results, form wise, while in the hair insertion it takes a much
longer period to achieve the desired look. The direction of hair
insertion has to be done as if it were growing naturally out of the
head. My mind can deal with the sculpting but gets impatient with
the hair work. So you have to find that person with the right mental
personality , the mind-hand coordination to fit that job
requirement. There are no schools that train in this
form, that is, wax models, even to this day. All other forms of
related sculpture in this industry, i.e. mask and make-up,
have various options available. Whether it be by correspondence
schools, instructional videos, or trade schools. I happened to
family with a great talent, good learning capabilities, and the
mind-hand coordination to do the various tasks involved in these
related art forms.
did Katherine Stubergh teach you about wax modeling?
Katherine gave me the first, real
instruction on portrait sculpture. This was a major factor in
choosing this career. She first tested me, to see if I was “really
interested” and then started giving me assigned areas. For example,
the first sculpture I worked on with her, was a piece of Tom Jones.
She would sculpt a part of his face and direct me on the other side.
It was sort of like on the job training. Learning to read facial
forms. Once she felt or saw that I was deeply interested in her art
form, she began to teach me all the basic knowledge on creating wax
This included the formulas for the wax itself, as well as
the Stubergh family technique for painting wax.
She stated that the expertise would
be acquired as I continued to create each piece.
In this line of art, we, the
sculptors, are required to, more often than not, create portrait
sculptures from various photographs and or painting of the
individuals being portrayed.
This is no easy task, as you have to
“read” photographs, to discern form from the lighting or the lack of
it. How human anatomy works in reality and problems there, when
working with a hard physical material, trying to resemble the human
form. Molding, casting, preparation, finishing, packing, there are
so many different areas involved in wax modeling. It is hard to
define each specific lesson, but Katherine provided the base and
relied on my natural artistic/business instincts to complete
the lessons and acquire the
Can you give an overview of how a wax model is created?
Sure! First you have to have the
research! Sometimes the client provides this information, but most
of the time you have to find it yourself. This means finding out how
tall your subject is, how much weight, color of eyes, hair, skin and
most important, photographs for the sculpture. Once in a great
while, you can have the subject “sit” for a sculpture, but that does
not happen often. The same thing applies to the “taking of a
The next step is the sculpture
itself, followed by the molding of it. Usually, during this same
time frame, you locate a person with similar hand shape and size,
take hand life-casts and mold them.
Next step is casting the head and
hands in wax. This is for a standard wax model. The only parts of
the body that are to be exposed, are cast in wax, The rest is made
of fiberglass. In my early training, the bodies were made out of
paper-mache’. While the wax parts are being cast, a body is being
considered. You can bring in a person who has a similar looking body
and do a life cast, or you can sculpt it, or utilize an existing
manniquin and make alterations to it.
All processes are overlapping, so
that production can keep moving forward.
Once the molds are opened and the wax
comes out, we then clean the seams, insert the eyes and if
necessary, the teeth. The head is then sealed with a wooden plug at
the base of the neck. It now goes to the hair artist, to have the
hair inserted into the wax. This can take one to two weeks.
The wax parts are then fitted to the
body and a re-touch cleaning is done in preparation for painting.
Using our “secret” formula, the wax parts are painted and finished,
which includes the styling of the hair.
The wax models are then filmed,
showing how to assemble them. The next step is an option, and that
is fitting the costume if one was ordered. We usually hire a
“costumer” to create one for us.
We then pack the wax models and
ship. Another option is traveling out to the museum site to
assemble and install the wax models.
This may sound very “short and easy”
to do, but there are many, many other minor areas involved and have
to be executed to create these wax models.