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.