Those impeccable, glistening, gold Oscar statuettes, for three decades the product of Chicago-based R.S. Owens and Company, will now be made in New York.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences today announced that Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry, based in Rock Tavern, New York, will exclusively create the coveted awards starting with this year’s ceremony.
According to the official statement:
“In a process that returns to the Oscar’s fine art roots, the statuettes will now be hand-cast in bronze before receiving [their] 24-karat gold finish. … Using a cast bronze Oscar from 1929, Polich Tallix artisans have restored subtle features of George Stanley’s original sculpture, which was based on sketches by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons. The overall size of the statuette remains the same.”
R.S. Owens had been crafting the Oscar statuettes in Chicago since 1983 at its North Lynch Avenue site.
“We have known about this [move] for quite a few months,” said R.S. Owens director of design Joseph Petree, in a phone conversation today, stressing that the relationship between his company and the Academy continues to be extremely cordial. “We assisted the Academy through the transition. They were looking to go back to the bronze statue, which is something we don’t do. Ultimately the Academy’s new leadership is making significant changes and so they wanted to go back to the original style [of the statuette]. I can’t be sad. We’ve been fortunate to make the most recognizable trophy on the planet for 30 years.”
Keeping the news a secret until today was easy, Petree said, for one simple reason: The statuettes are made a year in advance.
“We really didn’t say a lot to anybody, even internally, out of our respect for the Academy,” Petree said. “The statues were always made a year in arrears, so we already had this year’s statues ready in case this [move], God forbid, had failed. So [the Oscars] were covered.”
In a 2000 story by Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker, R.S. Owens then-president Scott Siegel shared some key insight into the making of the statuettes, which are crafted from one “precious, priceless mold”:
“I keep it under my pillow,” Siegel joked, before admitting it actually is kept under tight security in a company storage area. Beginning in late January or early February, the annual manufacturing process takes about three to four weeks for each Oscar. Beginning with that single mold, the casting, polishing and plating — first copper, then nickel, then silver and finally 24-karat gold — is handled “only by our most expert and trusted employees,” Siegel said. The final stage of Oscar production is the assembly of the statues and their bases.”
According to today’s statement, “… at a height of 13.5 inches and weight of 8.5 pounds, the new Oscar retains the basic physical characteristics of its immediate predecessor.”
Petree said his company will continue to service all existing statuettes and will continue to cast the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and the statuettes for the scientific and technical awards, among others. “Anything else the Academy will do that’s within our wheelhouse, we will still continue to do,” he said.
The new statuettes, Petree said, utilize numerous technical innovations. “They’re cast individually in a lost wax process. Every one of our Oscars came from one permanent mold, cast in a very high-end white metal called brittanium [a pewter-type alloy].”
Petree said there is no reduction in the company’s workforce as a result of the move. The company, founded in 1938, manufactures awards trophies, plaques and other awards. When it comes to Hollywood, in addition to the Oscar, it also produces the Emmy Award statuette and the famous “microphone” trophy for “American Idol.”
“We have agreed with the Academy to never discuss [the cost of and revenue for] producing the statuettes,” Petree said. “Oscar is priceless. For us, I will tell you, the luxury and pride of being able to make the Oscars far outweigh the financial aspect.”
What will he miss the most about Oscar?
“I think what we’re gonna miss the most is being able to see your work impact someone’s happiness on television,” Petree said. “The Oscar is the perfect embodiment of why our company exists — because recognition matters.”
The Oscars will be televised Feb. 28 on ABC.
Published at 7:00 p.m. Feb. 16, 2016