new photo

After a few changes and tweeks to the face I’m a lot happier with it, I also started the wings.

I hope to have this substantially finished this weekend for the majority of the add-on and subtractive work, leaving the finishing detailing and surface detailing as the bulk of what is left to do.

This tops out right about 825 pounds and the photo just doesn’t give the sense of just how big this is.

Scale photo

This shows the scale of the model, I did quite a bit more work on this today, and also pressed out the shield which is laying on my work bench now uncovered to firm up a bit before I mess with it further.

And adding 2 more pics tonight, with the shield now in place and the forearms and paws started.

Sullivan lion continued

I left the model most of the week to get firmer so it won’t need as much if any external support soon, it is much more stable tonight so I added more clay to the head and neck, now the nose and the top-knot are very close to where they should be, that leaves the rest of the head to model according to the position of those.

The chest top is where that should be, and the top of the shield will extend about 3″ above that.

The shoulder does not yet have the leg modelled on as I want to avoid putting on any relatively thin attachments for now as those will tend to get firm and start drying out rapidly in comparison to the rest.

I believe now I will work on modelling the shield as this will need a little time to firm up before it could be stood up on it’s bottom and be attached to the lion’s chest, at which point the legs and paws could be added.

There is nearly 600# of clay in this model now, the shield, front legs and wings will probably use around 200# more, so as it stands now it appears I estimated the amount of clay required astonishingly close.

Louis Sullivan lion progress

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Progress for today on this model consisted of adding more height to and closing the top of the head which is now approx 4′ 2″ from the top of the modelling stand. There is now 525# of clay and I’ve added a second support strap for additional stability.

I may, actually, will likely need to come up with a different method and location of support as I need to fill in around the neck now and the face and with the straps there I can’t just yet.

Supports also cannot be rigid as clay begins to shrink and a support doesnt “give” a little to allow it, the clay can crack.

Of course simply waiting a bit for the clay to firm up more will help a lot and at some point supports won’t be needed, right now as I work on the top the model has some “give.”

Also, lately I am leaning towards making the head of this closer to the original concept sketch Mr Sullivan drew for the terra cotta company sculptors, and this sketch clearly shows the lions were to have OPEN mouths;

I actually prefer that kind of lion depiction, so this would work out well and I would also have the only model done to his original concept.

I have to assume the bank’s original owners ordered the change in the lion’s mouth design from open/fierce to closed/platonic out of some concern with the climate fierce/threatening sculptures directly by the entrance might have on customers.

Progress

I have not worked on the lion this week till tonight, but that’s good because it allows the clay to “set” a little and firm up slightly.

I added more clay tonight, for a total of 475#, what looks like a muzzle is approximately the lower jaw’s location, the head still needs to be built up and that “muzzle” is about half of the jaw, but now I will be adding clay more slowly to the top and allowing the clay to firm up a bit more.

The back of the head needs to be built up a few more inches as well.

Sullivan lion session 5

Rapidly now to the neck area of the lion and the need to give the upper body some temporary support. I needed to move things around in the studio so I could roll the model under my chain hoist so as to suspend a strap from that for support.

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My hand for scale reference

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3rd & 4th session progress

The most recent photo is directly below, compared to the photo below that one taken earlier today, it can be seen that I made some large corrections as I work.

The torso was heading mostly vertically whereas the original lion leans forward a little, a fact not immediately obvious due to the shield, wings and other surface detailing, but he does lean a little forward.

I also bulked up and moved forward the stifles, “knees” for those not versed in animal anatomy.

Rapidly reaching the upper chest of the lion, and here is where care needs to be taken as there is now 350# of clay here, and the building up is now proceeding towards the outward and bulking out the upper chest area which will make it more front heavy.

Some temporary support will likely be needed shortly untill the clay stiffens and some of the moisture dries out and it is more capable of supporting itself.

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Progress view so far, I started this yesterday oct 22nd and worked on it about 2 hours I guess, and today about that long. There is 325# of clay there so far.

I am rough laying the clay on and will be adjusting it a lot. I added a rudimentary elbow at approximately the right height for reference, chances are it will move outward a bit as I bulk up the torso as the clay gets a bit firmer and can support more weight.

Louis Sullivan’s designs were very symbolic, and included a lot of organic forms and shapes, with that in mind and knowing the winged lion is both considered symbolic of peace, as In alchemy, the lion is symbolic of gold. Alchemical texts and artwork will depict a lion when a specific magical/spiritual goal is to be achieved.

It would seem fitting Sullivan would used a winged lion on a bank, and that furthermore, they are restrained closed-mouth, non-aggressive standard bearers that are holding up a shield with the bank’s name and date on them.

It makes perfect sense to not have roaring aggressive looking lions by the entrance where you want to welcome banking customers inside, so they were given very mild platonic, expressions:

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Sullivan lion started

This model is officially started now, no turning back!

In looking at photos of the original terra cotta lions that were removed, and referencing the 1914 rendering’s measurements, it became clear the lion’s base was made thicker than the drawing’s specified 2″, it appeared to be closer to 3″ than 2″ so that I what I am doing, starting out 3-1/2″ thick and with the shrinkage it should wind up about 3″ or 2-3/4″ thick.

Almost impossible to see unless you know it’s there and look carefully, the top of the modelling stand has a sheet of glass. I decided to use the glass rather than sheet plastic to prevent moisture from the clay from warping or damaging the plywood top even though it is urethaned, because over weeks of constant contact even that polyurethane will be affected by the constant moisure.

The glass is the perfect solution, it’s totally flat, smooth,and impervious to water.

The base of the lion shown is 17″ wide and 25-1/2″ long, all measurements are to be 10% larger than the 1914 drawing.

Now I stop here on the model so that I may study the drawing and photos, make notes, adjust measurements on a scrap of paper for that +10%, and print out some reference photos to look at while working.

Oh, that is 150# of clay in the photo, or 3 of those white boxes shown in the other photos.

In alchemy, the lion is symbolic of gold – a spiritual quality that is luminescent and rich in value. Alchemical texts and artwork will depict a lion when a specific magical/spiritual goal is to be achieved.

Since the original winged lions on the bank were either gilded or painted gold, the winged lion’s symbolism and color fits a bank well.

Louis Sullivan Bank lion started

Having rec’d my shipment of a half ton of clay, I think I can say this model has begun.

I finished the special steel and ply stand, its shown below.

In the background are 20, fifty pound boxes of clay stacked up. Off to the right is another 750 pounds of raku clay, so I’m glad when I added this room on I built the floor especially strong, but then I knew I would be putting concentrated loads in like this.

Closer shot of the new modelling stand, this is made of welded 1/4″ thick steel angles and flats, with 3 layers of 3/4″ plywood laminated for the bottom and another for the top.

The casters are ball bearing equipped, lockable and rated for 550# each. The stand weighs a little over 150#

Below is a crop of a scan of the original Sullivan architectural rendering of a portion of the entrance doorway, all of the original 1914 measurements for the lions are right there for me to make use of. The clay model will want to be 5% larger to compensate for shrinkage, but in all actuality I will make it 10% larger as there is a good possibility eventually I may press clay casts of it, which means 2 times that 5% shrinkage.

In other words my model should wind up 5% larger than the original, and after making a mold and a cast in clay, it’s 5% shrinkage will make it about the same size as the originals.

The measurements on the drawing are written in sideways, the other numbers such as 119, 120, 121 etc are setting numbers given to the terra cotta blocks making up the rest of the doorway.

Clay ordered

I decided to go with the course red clay for the Grinnel bank lion model, cone 06 to cone 4 firing range, this test sample was fired to cone 1 where it takes on a nice deep rich brick red color, the brick red I’M familiar with, not the so called “brick red” clay I’ve seen that looks more salmon or brown than red to me. At cone 4 it says it turns “brick red” but the sample photo on their web site looks more like leather brown, definitely brown and that’s not “brick red” to me at all.

The clay has 20% of 20 mesh grog and I believe also 30 mesh, and it’s made for handbuilding large 4 foot high pieces with thick walls.

I ordered a half ton of it today @ $330 and with the truck shipping on a skid running about $125, I’ll have $450 into it for clay, plus the steel stand materials, plywood and 4 casters. Looks like about $600 is what it will cost me to get this started.

I could order a ton of this clay for around $550 and the shipping would only go up a little, but since I already have 750# of the raku clay on hand I just bought what I needed for this model.

Modelling stand

Hand building the Sullivan bank lion out of wet clay, with an estimated weight of 800# or more requires not only some mobility method, but something to raise it up to working level, at least the most important portion of it- the face.

So I designed and built this custom made modelling stand out of heavy steel for this task.

I used 2″ x 2″ x 1/4″ steel angles for the 4 legs, 2″ x 1/4″ flat steel for the diagonal bracing, and heavy wall 1″ tube for the top and bottom with which to bolt the top and bottom plywood to, and to hold it all together nice and secure.

I have the steel portion finished, and primed now as shown, and Tuesday the heavy duty 4″ casters with a capacity of 550# each will arrive. Next week I’ll laminate a plywood top and one for the bottom using 3 layers of 3/4″ thick plywood.

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Modelling a panel after Louis Sullivan for a Chicago client last summer;

Lioness Nr 311 finished

Now that this model is done and hollowed out in back, it is off the easel and laying flat to dry out, all the modelling is finished. Since I used the same templates I used on my wolf roundel, the 4 egg and dart border pieces made for the wolf roundel would fit this lioness.

I’m starting to set up shortly for the next model, the companion piece for this, a lion which will face to the right so they could be used as a pair.

Louis Sullivan Grinnel Iowa bank lion

I decided this fall to model a full sized full bodied sculpture after this pair of winged lions outside the Merchants bank. One of the lions was smashed twice by being pulled over, and subsequently repaired. It was never installed right to prevent that in the first place, that it happened AGAIN in 2008 after being “restored” a few years earlier, is inexcusable.

The other lion had some cracks in it and was removed, it was said both were going to either be repaired, or I assume replaced, almost certainly with cheap (to me) replicas made of fiberglass or concrete.

The lions are at sidewalk level, and they measure 48″ tall from back paws to the wing tips, he sits on a 2″ thick square base measuring about 24″ x 24″, so these are quite large! “Boxed” to measure them, they would be about 24″ x 24″ x 50″.

Back paws to his mouth is 36″, so while the photo does not illustrate the sheer scale of this compared to a person standing next to him, the measurements should give the reader the idea.

It is my belief that after a master model was made, the terra cotta company made their plaster mold of it in more than one section, by that I mean I believe the shield was made in one mold, the forelegs and paws were made in 2 molds, the wongs made in 2 molds. They would have pressed clay in each of the resulting 6 plaster molds, and then attached the 5 pieces to the lion’s hollow body.

The base was probably just slab rolled and attached.

The lions would have been stood up on a steel cart and when dry, rolled into the room-sized kiln and fired in there standing up.

The lions appear identical (which shows they were made in molds) but for their foreleg positions. The lion shown has his left foreleg and paw lower than his right, in order to keep symetry, the mirrored opposite lion would have had his forelegs and paws reversed so that his left would be the same height as the one shown.

That was a small detail most would never notice, but it shows they paid attention to that little detail!

Now coming to my modelling of this, there are some technical details I need to work out yet, such as; this could not be cast in either concrete or cast-stone except in multiple sections and then being solid it would weigh a considerable amount, I’d estimate well over 1,000#. So that leaves 2 other materials; resin and terra cotta.

Resin is very expensive, about $80 for a gallon kit, one can imagine how many gallons it would take to make something like this even hollow, so the cost pretty much puts resin off the table for consideration.

That leaves terra cotta, either pressed in or slip cast, either method would work. Like my theory on the originals, it would take 6 molds, the shield, forelegs/paws, wings.

All the pieces would have to be made so that either they are attached and fired, or they are all fired and the pieces cemented in place, both have advantages and disavantages which I need not detail here at the moment.

Another issue is this would take a large kiln, preferably one that allows the lion to stand inside it rather than being laid down, the weight I estimate would be about 600# and that’s a lot of weight on very soft green clay details if laid on it’s side or something in a horizontal low-depth style kiln, not to mention the difficulty of wrestling that much very fragile weight up, over and into a kiln of that style.

Those are some of the details to be worked out before even starting.

WIth the economy the way it is, and will be for some time to come, I don’t foresee a market for general sales on this, so chances are he will sit as unfired greenware on a dolly in my studio for quite some time before I do anything with it, but it’s a project I just have to do!

This will be the largest, heaviest, most involved model I’ve done yet, it will require a lot of special techniques, new-to-me techniques and processes, creative solutions and much more.

If per chance there’s anyone out there even remotely interested in one of these, you’ll want to bookmark this blog and also drop me a note.

I don’t know what kind of price I would put on a terra cotta cast of this, but it would have to be mostly hand finished and with a lot of time involved, it would no doubt be quite expensive.