• Lee Plaza Lion model

    The firing is finished, 33-1/4 hours and here’s the lion in the kiln as I had it, the only way it would fit and the shelf set in on edge was necessary to keep him from falling forward, it worked perfectly and did not mar or discolor the clay at all where there was contact.


    The clay fired model on the floor below a cast from the mold which was made of the damp clay model. There is about a 2″ shrinkage which can be seen easily, and it also shows somewhat why I made the mold while the clay was still most- to retain most of the size.

    Screen shot 2013-05-25 at 3.34.00 PM

    Screen shot 2013-05-25 at 4.02.33 PM

  • Lee Plaza lion model

    With the original model completely dried out yesterday, I decided to go ahead and fire him in the kiln, so last night I programmed a new sequence with longer/slower heating rates, giving the model 9 hours @ 195º to make sure it’s good and dry all the way through, and then essentially rise about 75º an hour for a segment, and 80º for the last segment to 2046º which will make it 33-1/4 hours total. It’s a large heavy model so this should work fine.

    At the moment I have the dry green model in the kiln at the gallery cooking away. I just about fit in the kiln, it’s a large piece, hopefully with the longer firing time it will do fine.

    I set it to go up 50º an hour to 195º and then hold it for 6 hours to make sure it’s good and dry and warmed up, that should take about 9 hours total.

    Then it goes up 75º an hour to 400º and holds it for 15 minutes.

    Then 75º an hour to 1300º

    Then 80º an hour to cone 01 (2046º)

    Hold for 15 minutes.

    I had fine results with a faster firing on all the other pieces this size except for the one made of raku clay- it blew out by 400 degrees depite being dry for over a year.

    The rest of the pieces were Georgies Three Finger Jack clay, with 2 pieces being Continental course red with grog.

    None of them cracked.

    The lion is sitting upright as it’s the only way it can fit, and it’s forward heavy so I needed to set a kiln shelf in on edge for it to lightly lean against and stay vertical, not the best solution but it should be fine.

    Now after I eat I need to head over and check the kiln and see that it’s right about 195º and working properly. It should be around 500º about the time I head for work so I might check and see.

    I recently had an inquiry from someone asking if I had ever done a horse head before, and the gentleman sent a photo of what he had in mind. I tracked the original version back to the main page on the Library of Congress web site to get the large version and info:

    I figured the piece is about 20-22″ tall but the gentleman had mentioned wanting one “much smaller” though to me 20″ is not very large at all.

    The big issue is the fragile ears, one is broken and the other looks like it was patched at one point on this likely terracotta piece, it’s not a practical design to do in plaster or concrete, it’s more suited for bronze or cast iron unless the mane is creatively re-done to lend support to the ears.

    I went looking for pics on my drive as I know I had some, I found I did have a couple of photos of others, and tracked one back to an address of a former stable in NYC to look up in Google street view. I also discovered I had two other views of another one made of red clay of a salvaged piece sitting in the Brooklyn Museums’ sculpture garden in the fenced off area where a large quantity of architectural sculptures were just dumped there to store them.

    I concluded they were made by the same firm, so as a result I have at least three different views, and could probably find more with a little work.

    I think I’ll add it to my list of models to do.

    Really poor pic from street view of a former stable in NYC, either typical white terracotta or painted white.

    The red terracotta version.

  • Lee Plaza Hotel lion

    Now with the model finished, and the mold of him finished as well, here is the first cast of the lion:


  • Lee Plaza Hotel lion progress

    Last shot for now, the clay will need to firm up somewhat before I do more to it, still pretty sticky and soft since I just opened the packages yesterday.

    It took exactly 100# of clay, I have about one softball sized piece left of the packages I opened for this model.

    lee plaza lion 3
    lee plaza lion 3
  • Lee Plaza Hotel Lion

    Now that I have the order of clay at hand that I purchased last week, I started my model of the Detroit Lee Plaza lion.

    So far after about 3-1/2 hours, I am at this point in my roughing out process:

    Lee Plaza lion
    Lee Plaza lion
  • Winged Lion and Angel

    Now mind you, I really like this ancient Roman carved stone frieze sculpture a lot, so I made my own.


    While the few references to this have called it a “griffin” the head is not that of a bird as a griffin requires to be a griffin, but is more of the head of a lion. This is actually more properly called a winged lion (or lioness as it’s sans the mane)

    It is rich in symbolism, the interesting part is the winged figure is holding a vase and a plate, the vase is discharging a liquid which I will guess was probably meant to be wine. So the wine or liquid is being poured onto a plate and the lion’s paw is on the plate which indicates something, what that may be is anyone’s guess. Could it mean the lion is helping to hold the plate, indicating “no” or “thats enough”?

    The winged figure can be seen to have morphed from leaves and vines, this is a real common motif going way back obviously. The Greek and Roman gods were able to “call up” helpers of sorts from the dust of the earth, they either took partial animal form or partial human form like this figure to come and assist in various ways.

    The winged lion is symbolic of strength, courage, and is a guardian and protector.

    A very faint glimmer of light appears under the angel’s right arm below the elbow, it suggests the right arm is as well as the lion’s foreground wingtip- partially carved in the full round. Possibly the lion’s foreground rear leg is also carved full round in a portion of it.

    The full round carving makes these areas come alive with 3D detail, but it also makes them very fragile, which is one reason why most of these ancient Greek and Roman architectural carvings are missing heads, arms, legs and many details as a general rule, all broken away and lost.

    The fact this sculpture is made from hand carved stone with this detail is extraordinary, since unlike clay, if when carving stone the artist doesn’t do it right, or the design is “off”, stone that has been removed can’t simply be put back on to start again. With clay, if the artist doesn’t like the proportions, or some detail etc., they can simply apply fresh clay back on or cut away and re-do, not so with stone! it has to be completely right the first time because there is no second chance beyond modifying the design to something else, or starting on a new blank slab of stone.

    I have seen an old plaster statue catalogue showing a plaster cast of this sculpture for sale around 1910 for $25, but it was almost four feet wide and two feet high, my guess is life sized. This design is one I might work on but in a considerably smaller scale than four feet! I shall need more pictures, especially from the side but it seems pictures of this sculpture are rare for some reason. I am researching where exactly this is located, it may be a fragment in a museum for all I know.

  • Lee plaza lion

    I started to set up to make a new model a couple of weeks ago and have my usual box form on the easel ready to fill with clay,

    but then I discovered the raku clay I have had sitting around was too stiff to really work well, and the one box of Continental Course Red clay I have is not enough.

    I went to Continental’s web site and was going to order just a couple of boxes, 100# worth but the UPS shipping charge shown was like $70 from Minneapolis to Iowa for about $30 worth of clay, so I closed the window and didn’t order it.

    Wow, the UPS shipping rates have gotten insane, and Continental can’t be more than only zone 2 since it’s only a 4 hour drive away.

    Guess I’ll wait a while or order 1000# later, but this is the lion I want to do about 16-1/2 x 22″

  • Lee Plaza Hotel lion

    I decided on my size for the lion, which will be close to the size of the originals, I decided to go with 16-1/2 x 22 on the clay model, after shrinkage it will be around 15-1/2 by 21-1/2 or thereabouts.

    I scaled from photos and it appears the original lions were about 17 x 24, hard to get it much closer since the only photos I’ve found were taken at an angle, but one that helped a lot was the photo of the 24 stolen lions in the police storeroom, I could see a concrete block wall the lions were leaned up against, and since the blocks are a known size- nominally 8″ high, I was able to scale using that measurement and come close.

    I am about ready to attach the box form to the backer board to begin work today, here’s the form I am starting with.


  • Shattered

    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.