Statue of Limitations

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Martin Vega
Oscar statuette maker

Martin Vega's hands literally give life to each golden man that stands 131⁄2 inches tall, weighs 81⁄2 pounds and is plated with copper, nickel and 24-carat gold.

Five years ago Vega was hired by R.S. Owens and Co. of Chicago, the firm that has been producing the Oscar statuettes since 1983.

"Three years ago, I finally got the chance, and it made me feel very special," Vega admits, speaking in Spanish. "I have about 20 years of experience at hand-casting, and I knew I could do a great job if I was allowed to try."

The job is a slow and decidedly complex process involving about eight steps. It starts with the pouring of the metal base material into a steel mold, moving from there into sanding, molding, casting, plating, engraving, lacquering, baking, cooling and finally assembling the primary piece into a base. Each piece of the puzzle is scrupulously managed, supervised, inspected and signed off on to assure quality and security.

Vega has his hand in every aspect of the crafting, which takes him the better part of a couple of months to complete. But he knows a little something about work that takes time to bring to fruition, having begun his work life as a corn and tomato farmer alongside his father in his native Mexico. Dad still works the fields back home, but son emigrated to the U.S. in 1988 where he lives with his wife and four children.

So do his family and friends consider Vega something of a celebrity himself thanks to the Oscar-making gig?

"Well, my wife does brag about it," Vega says. "The other day, she was talking about me to her friends, and they didn't believe I did this job. But then they did a story about my company on the TV news and there I was on television. So now they know she isn't making it up -- and they think I'm really famous."
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