Here’s what the shattered panel I posted about that had damage in the kiln looks like, there’s so many tiny fragments that I determined in about 10 minutes of trying to see if it can be repaired to some extent that it’s beyond that LOL. If it was just a few large fragments it wouldn’t be hard to piece back together, but there’s a gallon pail full of dime sized chips and fragments too that are not shown.

That’s ok though since I have a mold of it, still, it would have been nice to put back together, but with the amount of fragmentation, and then that wide crack- the fragments would never seat and lock back in the way they were- the “background” for them has obviously expanded and changed, which is what opened that crack.


Art Deco era lion, Lee Plaza Hotel, Detroit

I suppose I’ve been somewhat fascinated by these lions after reading an interesting story a decade ago about the theft of 50 of these from a fifteen story 1928 Art Deco building in Detroit that had been abandoned. Now I’m toying with the idea of making a model of one.


The building, known as The Lee Plaza is on the historic register.

 	By Andrew Jameson

Photo By Andrew Jameson

The building closed in the late 1990s and the ground floor openings were bricked up with concrete blocks to keep vandals out, but the concrete blocks didn’t last long and soon the vandals and the scrappers made their way in and destroyed the interior, ripped out the wiring and plumbing, fixtures, and smashed everything else.

The huge roof which was sheeted with copper was completely stripped down and hauled away. All of the aluminum framed windows were smashed out and the aluminum stolen for the scrap, and folks, that’s a lot of windows in that photo above yet the police never stopped or arrested anyone!

Then comes the terracotta lions, about 50 of them below windows on the upper floor were all yanked out of the facade leaving huge gaping holes and loose bricks, which if any fell on the sidewalk 15 floors below would kill any unsuspecting pedestrian instantly.

The police became involved when it was discovered promotional material about a row of new townhouses in Chicago boasted of soon to be sporting salvaged lions from the Lee Plaza in Detroit, the problem was the owner of the Lee never authorized their removal and the building was standing, the lions were stolen.

Once it was determined they had crossed state lines the FBI became involved. They discovered the six lions slated to be installed on the new townhouses cam from an Architectural Salvage dealer in Chicago who claimed they got them from another deal they couldn’t name (something fishy about that story!) The prosecutor wanted to prosecute them and under legal pressure the salvage dealer made it so 24 of the lions and 4 gargoyles were recovered and taken to the police store room for storage pending an outcome of possible renovations of the Lee (which hasn’t happened yet a decade later)

With recovery of the 24 lions, the whereabouts of the 6 lions which had been installed on the new row houses in Chicago which the builders had paid $1000 each for, that still leaves about 20 lions missing and unaccounted for still floating around out there.

A little googling and I discovered who the original sculptor of the lion design was Corrado Parducci whose resume in Detroit architectural jobs numbers over 600 buildings!

Kiln stuff

Oops, guess that panel didn’t work well, it was completely destroyed, turned out it was the raku clay and all the other models that had been fired were a different clay. The raku clay should have been better that the other clay since it’s designed for rapid heating and cooling.

Oh well, no real loss since I have a mold of it, but it was a surprise it had started cracking and breaking before the kiln was even 700 degrees.

More kiln stuff

A couple of more models came out of the kiln this morning, the own center and the Nortown Theater Art Deco panel Nr D7.

D7 weighs 38# and it was somewhat of a surprise that the panel weighs pretty much what it weighed before going into the kiln, I had thought the process would continue to burn out materials, the chemically combined water, and that a percentage of the weight would be lost as a result, that seems not to be the case though it may have lost a very small amount of weight the scale wasn’t accurate enough to register, on the order of less than a pound.

That was good to find out as I now know the final weight for the fired ware will be very close to what the sculptures weighed when bone dry before being fired.

Shrinkage however is another story, as expected, the firing process results in about a 1/2″ shrinkage per lineal foot, so the D7 panel is around an inch shorter in length than it was.

Of course this is a known factor and compensated for in overscaling models if a certain size is required in order to fit it something else.

One could in fact achieve a size reduction in this way by repeating the process, I could take this fired model now, make a plaster mold from it, press clay into the plaster mold and fire that cast and make a silicone mold. The resulting cast-stone casts from that would be consierably reduced in size, but the amount of work involved would be more than simply making a new smaller model.



Kiln firing continued

After several more loads, I now have several of my original sculptures preserved in the hard terracotta state.

Other than some minor warpage of the JMCCO monogram panel due to it’s tipping forward at an angle in the kiln during the firing process, all the other pieces turned out completely free of any cracks or other issues.

Here are some photos of the now fired sculptures, all but one was modelled in Continental Clay’s raku clay which can be fired up to cone 10, I fired all of these to cone 1 except the angel panel. The thing is, I never actually intended to kiln fire any of these models since they were generated just to enable taking a silicone mold from, but most of the original models came out of the mold making process intact and so I thought it would be a shame to throw them out and just stored them away on a shelf in the basement. A few of these have been stored away since 2005, 2006. A few others suffered some minor to major damage in the mold making process, the owl center sitting in the kiln as I write this lost a little surface of his beak and the top scroll broke off, the Senator Hotel griffin panel broke in half, but I will fire what will fit, and repair as practical.

The where is this kiln firing going now is a good subject, it’s been a goal for a considerable length of time to eventually phase out casting anything in concrete for exterior use and restoration or new installation in a brick wall. Replacing the concrete with a more durable, valuable, and historically correct material like terracotta has been part of that goal. The plans have been to develop a small number of models to be able to offer them in this material.

Most people don’t know a lot about the processes, and it’s too involved to go into detail here, but essentially to make these in terracotta, very complex multi piece plaster molds (instead of silicone and plaster) must be made, and every undercut in the design either accounted for with the mold sections, or temporarily filled in so the hard plaster mold sections can be removed. What that means is, every cast made from clay in these molds will have to be hand refined and detailed to put back any undercut areas that were filled in, and generally clean up the mold seem lines.

This is exactly how the original ornaments were made in the 1800s, but labor was cheap back then and today I have to consider the cost for firing the kiln and my time hand detailing each piece.

I determined the kiln takes a little less than $5 worth of electricity to fire to cone 1 over 18 hours 50 minutes (56 kwh on the electric meter) and for the most part I can only fit one, or at most two pieces in at a time, and even though the kiln is automatic, electronic controllers do fail, so every firing will need me to drive over and check to be sure it shut off properly.

The purchase of the clay and more importantly the shipping costs for it, is another cost to consider that has to be factored into the pricing of these.

I don’t feel the current economic situation is conductive to marketing this with much success, but working on the firing aspects and possibly experimenting with glazes, and then making a mold for a small piece is a good preliminary start towards offering these later.

The 202 cherub


Rear of the cherub 202


The 649 Pan center


D5 Art Deco


JMCCO monogram panel done in Continental Clay “Course Red” clay


Firing #2

Ok, firing #2 went fine, nothing cracked or exploded 🙂

There was one issue with the monogram panel however, I had it in the kiln on edge resting on 3 posts, but at some point during the firing it tipped forward and leaned one top corner against the brick, as it only had about an inch and a half space it didn’t tip very far, but apparantly it was enough to cause it to warp a little across the opposite corner which was not touching the brick. It’s not a real big deal but I wasn’t thrilled with the warp.

The photo compares the color of the same clay- angel was fired at cone 05 and the monogram at cone 1, that’s quite a dramatic difference! The red migrates a little more towards brown, a little browner than I expected, I might see what cone 02 would bring out- a little less orange 04 has, with more red and less brown cone 1 has.

The difference in temperatures between the two is 1945 for the angel and 2079 for the monogram, just 134 degrees difference there makes this dramatic a color difference.

The male keystone made from the raku clay came out fine, the lacquer on it all burned away leaving no residue of any kind anywhere, so it looks like that’s not a problem, I measured him as green at 20-3/8″ tall, and at cone 1 he shrink almost exactly one inch to 19-3/8. The color is sort of a pale cream, not very interesting but the goal was to just make it permanent so it’s no longer soft easy to damage greenware.

Next load

Now for the 2nd load in the kiln, I was able to fit the 621 male keystone and the monogram plaque. This time I decided to take it to cone 1 @ 2079 degrees which should give the red clay of the monogram a very nice darker and richer red color. I won’t know untill to-morrow night how they turn out as it will take at least 10-12 hours to cool down enough to open the lid.

First kiln firing

The moment of truth was last night, after connecting up the vent I placed my angel model in the kiln on end, it had barely 1/2″ of space between it and the underside of the lid, so it just fit!

I used the pre-programmed slow bisque setting and let it run.

About 13 hours and 16 minutes later it reached cone 05 as set to, and shut off. I decided to go and check on it to make sure I had set it right and it worked properly, so I went over at about 5 AM and it had shut off about 40 minutes earlier and had cooled down to about 1685 degrees, so I shut the vent off and went to bed.

It took about 10 hours to cool down to about 250 degrees, so I just propped open the lid and did some work for a bit and let it cool down to about 170 degrees before I took angel out.

The model firing came out perfectly, not one crack or any warpage, she shrunk about a 1/2″ in length.

The color came out like the sample on the left in this photo.

The model after firing, the heat of the kiln’s 1900 degrees changes the color of the clay to a very attractive red-orange brick color.


Kiln continued

I finally have the kiln wired in, I ran into a couple of issues that required re-doing the conduit to 3/4″, changing a 90 degree fitting to a different type, and then having to get larger wire.

The pain was the owner’s manual that came with the kiln, and their web site price list/installation PDF for this kiln states that it takes #10 wire and a 40 amp breaker which is totally wrong.

I did the math, 6300 watts / 240 volts is 26.25 amps which is what’s on the name plate, and #10 wire’s max ampacity is 30, and using .80 for the safety margin to avoid nuissance trips and maxing the wire out, 24 amps.

It became clear they screwed up in the documents and it has to be #8 wire. I sent Olympic an email about the error.

I need to mount the vent motor to the wall and get some ducting for it next, but I turned the kiln on for a few minutes and it worked fine, it got up to 360 degrees before I turned it off.

From the Bartlett controller manual it looks like a typical cone 6 firing on slow bisque would take about 15 hours, and since my work is heavy and thick, I’ll probably be using that slower speed the most.

I have large cones for 4, 5 and 6, figuring cone 5 will be a good temperature for the clay. The raku clay I use for modelling has a very wide firing range, offhand I think it’s 05 on to cone 10.

Here is it all hooked up except the vent, with my gorgeous professional looking conduit which was a bit of a chore to do the several bends to get into the bottom of the breaker box, tapconning it securely with brackets, and a nice tight 90 degree conduit body to come around the corner with a minimal amount of projection. The kiln is plugged into a Leviton Nema 5-60 receptacle, the circuit has a separate ground wire and the outlets and conduit are grounded to that.

I think this location in the basement turned out ideal, concrete floor and wall, brick wall, nothing flammable nearby, short run for the power and plenty of floor space around the kiln.

I do need to wire in a 4 foot fluorescent lamp to replace the single bulb in this corner.

New Kiln

My Olympic kiln was delivered the other day,

I was real impressed with everything about the shipment and kiln, it was well packed, and strapped securely to a new wood pallet.

It came with everything one could need! opening the three cardboard boxes in the shipment, there was the vent kit with everything included- clamps, hoses, colelctor cup, extension legs, instructions, even a drill bit was included to drill holes with (though the kiln had them already predrilled for the vent system)

The other boxes included the shelves, stilts and posts, an extra set of upper and lower elements, bag of element pins, kiln wash, kiln mortar, a box of sample large cones, set of three peep hole plugs, a pair of GB wire cutter/strippers, manual for the kiln, manual for the Bartlett controller, manual for the vent, a booklet about Orton cone, and an extra thermocoupler. I mention everything off the top of my head and think I got it all.



I have the model finished, except for the final cleanup, straightening and sharpening edges etc.

There really isn’t a way to have the letters go under and over each other like this without “bending” to do it, or else make the letters extremely deep or “stepped” rather than bending, but they are already about 1/2″ high.

I had initially thought it might work but raising one letter much higher to make it flatter and then to go over another lower letter next to it without “bending” down to do it doesn’t work, so as it dries and firms up a bit more this weekend I’ll be tidying up the surfaces and edges and getting them smoother in the bending curves as well.

It was an interesting conversion from 2D to 3D and presents some interesting problems in 3D form you don’t have in the 2D form.


I thought I would make a model after this very ornamental monogram pictured below:

The antique original pictured above came from the old James McCreary Dept store on 23rd Street, 6th Avenue, NYC, I removed it from the lower portion of one of the metal elevator doors when the building was being demolished around 1974. I had added the frame and painted detailing around then.

The poor photo from 1982 doesn’t show it well, but it’s a very entwined, ornamental 3D design that would translate nicely in clay I think.

I will make the design about 15″ square.

The original sign is low relief but interesting intertwining of the letters, so I thought a much deeper relief would lend itself to some interesting treatment with various relief heighs, shadows and cutouts. I think a textured background, smooth letters will do best, haven’t decided on the texture yet, maybe a ball peened, or wood notched tool marks.

I decided to go with full size, making the monogram end up about 15-16″ square on an 18″ background which will shrink a little. I used course red clay as I have two boxes of it I need to get rid of before it’s too stiff to use.

Setting up the model with the lettering outlines inscribed on the clay for reference:

I will probably make the letters quite raised, 3/4″ or even more.

The monogram is: J M Mc Co. which was the James McCreary Co. department store dating back to the 1880s.

Art Deco D9 ready

I have the first cast on hand now of this panel, this one is reserved for a client, the red is the base color in the casting material and this is drying out before I can apply the finish to it:

D10 is next, and the mold for that will be finished next week.