• Lioness mold

    Now that I’m done with the winged lion for the time being, it’s time to turn towards finishing the mold for the lioness roundel which I intend to complete today. The rubber portion has already been done, next comes the plaster shell.

    The first public cast is already pre-sold and paid for by a previous client who purchased the wolf head roundel some time back.

    I’m inclined now to start a lion model facing the opposite direction so there will be a pair. As I remember i have about 150# of the red clay, and about half a ton of the raku clay on hand. It would be a good one to use up that last 150# of the red clay on.

    I’ll have to get a carbide or diamond sawzall blade to cut the winged lion, for the time being I’m only going to remove the head to hollow it out more and insert a steel pipe or the like down inside thru the top of the table so the body will have no place to go.

    If I make a mold of this at some point, the wings would need to be cut off horizontally at their bottoms, the shield will also probably have to be removed with the front paws being cut at the wrists.

    That way the wings, body, head and shield would each have a mold, and if this was ever cast in something like concrete it would be easier.

    The original pieces could be fired in a kiln and re-assembled with mortar joints after a mold is made.

    I had no plans to do more with the model past just creating it for my own amusement, but it would be nice to cast it in something permanent.

    This would be an estate sized piece with a comparable pricetag, but in today’s economy I don’t believe the demand would be there for something like this.

    The model ran me about $600 to make- clay, shipping and constructing the stand it needed.

    Still, I’m now wanting to make something else large. I was for a time, a while back thinking of a model of this winged lion in Savannah GA that was made out of terra cotta in 1886 and which was completely destroyed by a drunk driver whose car smashed into it at high speed, went airborn and crashed into the entry of the building across the street from this which was built at the same time.

    The photo doesn’t show the scale very well, but the base portion above that ring is around 4 feet long, and the lion is about 4 feet tall or more according to other photos Ive seen of it with people nearby.

  • Winged lion

    Now that the lion is finally mostly dry except for the base which gave me a bit of trouble all along, I hoisted him up carefully to insert a couple of blocks to rest it on so the bottom of the base can dry out better.

    The base was originally built up on top of a sheet of safety glass on top of the plywood to keep the moisture from warping the plywood. But unfortunately the glass prevented moisture from drying out of the bottom, which resulted in it drying mostly from the top and sides, and that started causing the slab to want to warp upwards and crack.

    As it warped up a bit I broke the glass and was able to get some of it out but the model at 825# was too heavy and too fragle to attempt to lift till now.

    But it’s no big deal I can re-contour the bottom of the slab to a flatness, having already done that to the top and side a while back to remove most of the warp. With the bottom flattened out by shaving it down, it will stand on it much better.

    The cracks in the base however are a concern for structural stability

    so I am keeping the hoisting straps on it for the time being, that’s a lot of weight now supported on less base and the base has cracks across it that I’ve cosmetically filled.

    I waited just a little too long to cut the head off while the clay was soft enough to do so, that may need a carbide sawzall blade to do now as trying with ordinary blades dulled them in a few seconds!

    I wanted to remove the head and hollow it and the body a bit more and evenly, and then attach something inside to the table for stability just in case so the body can’t fall over should those base cracks weaken further.

    I didn’t want to do too much along that line earlier due to the instability and softness, but I waited just a wee bit too long.

    I estimate he weighs around 600-650 pounds right now.

  • Winged lion finished

    The modelling of this is pretty much finished, at least what would be visible in photos like this. That

    leaves the surface cleanup and refining the small details as to what is left to do.

    I may still add the lettering the originals had, i.e “MERCHANTS NATIONAL BANK 1914” to the face of the shield, but this would have to be done with incized lettering rather than raised as the originals had.

    I believe the original master models’ lettering may have been metal, wax or wood founders’ letters applied onto the surface of the clay, and while the model was still damp they made the mold of him.

  • 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


    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.



    My hand for scale reference


  • 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.



    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:


  • 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.


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