This complex design will take a while to finish!
This James W Scoville building Elmslie “Sullivanesque” sculpture is now out of the kiln, it is still about 200 degrees and had to be handled with gloves, it turned out perfect!
One can see the color change in photos from the previous dry/unfired state and now that it’s been fired to a little over 2,079 degrees, actually cone 2 tipped because I added a 15 minute “hold” at the set temperature, but because of the “heat work” it went a little higher, but the result is better and the color is nice and even top to bottom, whereas in the past the very bottom of large pieces like this would turn out slightly lighter due to slightly lower temperatures near the floor of the kiln.
A Virginia museum has an original, that one still has the old grey paint slathered all over it but the red clay underneath can be seen.
Someone has one they have been trying to sell for quite a while for $5,000 !!
Exterior Ornament from the James W. Scoville Building, Chicago (Primary Title)
Dankmar Adler, 1844-1900 (Artist)
Louis Sullivan, American, 1856 – 1924 (Artist)
Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. (Artist)
probably modeled by, Kristian Schneider (Modeler)
After 4 weeks of drying I placed the pressed clay Chicago James Scoville building “Sullivanesque” panel in the kiln and turned ‘er on.
I changed the program on the controller slightly for this piece by bumping the temperature up and adding 10 minutes soak time to when the kiln reaches that temperature.
About 37 hours from now the kiln will shut off and take half a day to cool down before I see what I get.
Meanwhile, here it is sitting in the kiln when I turned it on. The light yellow colored deals touching the back of the panel are shelf posts and I placed them on both front and back so that should the panel want to tip- it can’t.
The two red pyramid haped deals resting on top of the posts are called “cones” and they will partially melt and bend over at specified temperatures each uniquely is formulated to do that at, so they tell me if the kiln got hot enough- what it was set to, or too hot- hotter than I set it for.
In this case there’s a cone 1 which bends over at 2,079 degrees F and a cone 2 which bends over at 2,088 degrees F, and yes they are THAT accurate that 9 degrees in a furnace that is over 2,000 degrees can be measured accurately.
The temperature and soak time much like baking a cake or making toast in a toaster- also affects the final color and “doneness” of the terracotta. This clay I use is a brick red that as the temperature goes above that cone 1 starts to turn brown- it can take cone 5 (2,167 degrees) at which point it turns a dark chococate brown! I’ve never gone higher than cone 1 but it would be interesting to experiment with a smaller piece.
So far I’ve shown the modelling process, the hand-pressing process and now the kiln firing process will wrap it all up in a sort of educational “How the architectural terracotta was made” in Sullivan’s day and before.
I bought 2 of these red terracotta blocks that came from a building in Newark NJ, these would date back to the 1880s. No identification marking, numbers or anything on them as is typical of these pieces in that decade.
The design has no undercuts at all, is very smooth, and sharp crisp edges and corners which indicates to me that the original pattern was probably carved wood and the mold taken directly from it. The same leaf design sans the specific angled border around the perimeter of these 7-1/2″ square designs may have been incorporated in cast iron elements too as a foundry pattern since wood carvings were typically made for sand casting.
The coal soot blackening pattern on both blocks proves these were embedded in the brick wall in the position they are in the photo- alternated left and right. These would have likely been part of a row of them as a frieze band across the facade.
The backs were slightly scooped out by hand leaving a vertical center intact for structural strength since there would be brick wall above these.
The first hand-pressed clay sculpture is finished and drying now before it can be kiln fired.
Once this is fired in the kiln I will have an exact size and weight and a firm price for these signed, numbered and dated works reproducing this historic George Grant Elmslie/Louis Sullivan 1884 Chicago design featuring a styled webbed lotus.
The design is an early work by these men and it dates to the foundation of what has become known as the “Sullivanesque” style of architectural ornament.
The James W Scoville building was demolished in the 1970s, many of the original artifacts were salvaged, most are in private collections while a few are in museums such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where it appears in photos on their web site still sporting it’s old battleship grey paint that was slathered on the original facade over the rich red brick and terracotta.
Now instead of hoping one of these might come up at an auction, and only finding ONE when you might really need a pair for a project, and instead of paying upwards of $5,000 for one of those, these authentic hand-pressed kiln fired sculptures can be had new, in any quantity, made exactly the same way the originals were made in the 1880s- one can purchase these from me at $349 delivered (48 states only)
As can be seen in the bottom photo, these really ARE made exactly like the originals- including the typical webbed compartments in the back- the portion that was embedded into the wall.
The webbing gives considerable structural strength and stability, and when kiln fired to almost 2,100 degrees F it becomes vitrified and has less porosity than even modern hard brick. As a result these can be built into a brick or stone wall or displayed in the garden too.
These will probably be around 50 pounds in weight as this one took 60 pounds of clay.
The model is coming along slowly but surely, below is an updated now 5 minute long time-lapse video of sculpting the original master model.
The model is coming along nicely, it’s a pretty complex design that requires a lot of planning, but as I rough out the details in the clay there will be more time-lapse videos and photos.
I pressed the first LS2 panel today, it took 60 pounds of clay, the sculpture will need to firm up a little and dry a little before I can finish cleaning up and refining the surface details.
It takes about 2- 3 weeks of slow, careful drying of pressed clay sculptures of this size before they can be kiln fired.
The firing process in an electric kiln takes approximately 36 hours and the high quality clay I use is fired to what is known as “Cone 1”- about 2,100 degrees F which vitrifies it nicely to become harder and less porous than standard hard bricks are.
Once the sculpture was removed from the plaster mold as shown, I have to spend considerable time going over every milimeter of the surface to model-in any missing details, sharpen edges, eliminate any surface defects, mold seams etc.
Each is a signed, numbered and dated work of art.
A timelapse video of the whole process is here;
The new mold for pressing terracotta from is finally dry, it took 2 weeks in front on a box fan on high. The main base piece weighs 90#, the other 6 sections probably adds another 50# to that.
George Elmslie and Dankmar Adler’s 1884 Chicagoan James Scoville building “Sullivanesque” design is sure to be stunning in kiln fired red terracotta. There are a few originals out there, at least one is sitting in a Virginia museum, and others as well as other designs from the same building have been spotted on already sold live-auction sites after having sold for an insane $5,000- $15,000, but when people have NO lower cost options and want a particular design then they have to pay through the nose, they also have to accept whatever condition and quantity is available.
It would really suck if someone had a great design in mind for their project, but it takes 4 identical pieces and they can only find 2 at a salvage yard! That’s a common delemma whe dealing with antiques- you need 2 someone only has 1 for sale, or you find 2 but one is so damaged it’s almost unusable.
That’s where I have an advantage, because if a client needs 4 of these or 44 of them, they could have them, and at a far more reasonable cost! At this time the interior-cast stone version of this panel is priced at $229, shipped to any of the lower 48 states;SIZE: Nominal 21-1/4″ high by 13″ wide, 3″ deep.
WEIGHT: Nominal #35
When these are pressed from terracotta, due to clay shrinkage, the fired terracotta version will be slightly smaller- approx 10-15%, so those will wind up around 19″ high and 11-1/2″ wide which will be a nice residential scaled sculpture that can be displayed indoors or outdoors, it can be embedded into a brick, concrete or stone wall.I expect the terracotta version will probably be priced around $329https://www.urbansculptures.com/cart/product/sullivanesque-panel-after-james-w-scoville-chicago-nr-ls-2/
Making progress on this model, here’s a couple of time-lapse videos so far, newest at the top;
1/26 Uploaded the longer video to-day, the design progress can be especially seen near the end;
To-day I started the process on the Washington Irving school, once at 4727 Pine St., Hammond Ind W1 pier capital model.
I happened to find photos of this interesting 1936 George Elmslie/Louis Sullivan “Sullivanesque” style design at the City Museum in St Louis and decided to create a model of it. I was able to scale the size of the original terracotta artifacts to about 20″ square. Though the originals were actually about 20″ deep embedded into the wall as well as projecting out from the wall about 5″, I needed to modify that original configuration to a more practical one for how my clients would likely use it- hanging ON the wall, or embedded 3-4″ into a brick or stone wall, so with that end goal in mind this model is designed to do both as it will be a nominal 4″ deep.
The original pier capitals projected out from the face of the brick facade by about 5″, as a result the design on the fronts of the capitals wrapped around on the two sides, since doing that configuration would mean making my model 5″ deeper yet (9″ total) it would make it a less than useful design for how it would be used in a non pier capital display, so I will not wrap the design around the sides beyond possibly the smallest amount on the corners.
George Grant Elmslie & William Hutton- architects, and the Midland terracotta Co with modeller Albert Fritz are said to have executed the original terracotta artifacts for the school in 1936, the school was demolished in 2003.
As the description on a placard at the City Museum says- this is an outstanding example of the Louis Sullivan style of architectural ornament. The Art Deco inspired chevron or “V” is surrounded by thistle leaves and is sprouting leaves of a plant or bud of a flower. The flower which made up of seeds emerges from the plant stalk.
In looking at the design itself, I noticed this curiosity which I circled in red;
The modeller, said to be Fritz Albert, obviously left that little square of material in the center of both larger squares, in actual modelling practice the easiest way to scribe or cut those vertical and horizontal cross lines would be to make one motion top to bottom and left to right with a tool, but Fritz didn’t do that, instead, he made four cuts to leave that little center intact, the question is why?
It’s almost as if it’s a deliberate miniature version of one of the four larger squares, but since the Elmslie/Sullivanesque designs were all based on styled organic plant forms and geometric shapes, it may be the four squares and center square are an Art Deco inspired styled four petal flower and bud.
Since none of those involved are alive to ask, we can only guess, but it makes sense.
The plaster-piece mold for this is done, waiting for the last section to set before taking it apart, and finishing up the last segment of a time-lapse video of it.
It took 125# of plaster and some 7 gallons of water, about half of that water will evaporate out.
It will be probably 2 weeks with fans blowing on it to dry it out enough to use for pressing the clay into.
This is exactly how the working molds were made for all of the Elmslie “Sullivaesque” terracotta, and all of the similar architectural terracotta as well.
About the biggest difference between then and now is only in my using a rubber positive copy instead of taking this plaster mold directly off the original clay model. With the rubber positive I could make additional or replacement molds from that whereas the clay original master is typically destroyed in the process.
Back in the old days these kinds of designs were typically custom made for each building job, so they tended to only need a few of each, a dozen maybe. If they made terracotta cornices and windowsills, these were typically made by extruding the clay thru a die under mechanical pressure for small ones, for larger ones they used a system of running a template along the clay which was the same way they did the elaborate plaster ceiling crown moldings- shaped in place using wood runner strips and templates.
Now that I have the materials needed, I’ll be making the mold required to produce this historic model in hand-pressed kiln fired red terracotta this weekend, it will be a few weeks before the first one can be produced.
I printed out the two full sized reference images I need for the two planned models, a tape measure opened to 24″ is for visually scaling the sizes in the image.
The one on the right is a W-1 pier capital design from the Washington Irving school, Hammond Indiana, the one on the left is a lunette design from the James Scoville building in Chicago.
The Scoville lunette is from an assembly of two that were sold at an auction outfit for some $15,000, while the pier capital from the 1936 Hammond Indiana school was designed by George Grant Elmslie and William Hutton in the Sullivanesque style by Louis Sullivan. The school was demolished in 2003 and this particulat artifact resides at the city museum in St Louis. I found some great photos of it that were taken by a photographer on a photo sharing site, after I inquired about the artifact’s dimensions he very generously uploaded 109 photos to an album for me to download and see, the 109 photos were all taken of artifacts in the city museum’s collection of Elmslie/Sullivanesque artifacts and others, a real treasure trove and there’s other designs I like that I may also make models of at a later date.
The pier capital will require a little thought as it was originally a 20″ cube, with all but about 5″ of it embedded into the brick wall, the sides of it that were visible had the same triangular designs as the face does, so that presents a couple of issues to decide on, for the interior cast stone the casts dont need to be deep as they would hang ON the wall, but I plan to do these in terracotta and those could be embedded INTO a wall, so if I retain the original configuration of the sides having a design instead of being flat, then I would have to make this considerably deeper- say 7-8″ deep so about 4-5″ can project out while 3-4″ would be embedded, we’ll see what I decide on that, meanwhile I will probably start the Scoville Lunette model first.
As I look around in google and flickr’s images, there’s certainly no lack of a large variety of Sullivan & Elmslie designed architectural terracotta, both pictured on building facades as well as stripped-off artifacts such as those found at the City Museum in St Louis from demolitions.
As I find interesting designs that I like and think will sell, I’ll be working on more models of these unique and interesting designs.
I’ve already identified at least two pieces I want to model next, the first one was from the same James Scoville building as the recently finished design with the webbed lotus leaf design.
The original shown below was sold at an auction site a few years ago for a whopping $11,250 plus the usual buyer’s premium which tends to add about another 20% and sales tax on top which brought the final price on this to an insane $15,000;
I’ll probably work on developing the design and starting the model of the main section of the above in the next 2-3 weeks, I may make the side pieces as well since it’s MUCH easier to make them and have them fit properly if they are done together, it would take 10 different uniquely shaped moldings for the surround, but they were nothing but flat blocks with a half-round design on the surface acting as a nice visual border.
Probably when it’s done in fired red terracotta the pricing for each main motif sans the borders will run around $325, but it will be available in interior cast stone as well. The borders will be modelled and stored away in case a client wants them, I won’t automatically just make molds of those as there may not be any interest in the border pieces.
The other design I liked is at the City Museum in St Louis MO., I once went to St Louis to visit a friend of mine there, and to exhibit at a dog show sponsored by Purina, my hotel was some distance from the show grounds on the Purina property, but I visited St Louis.
So this is a pier capital from the Washington Irving public school that was demolished in Indiana, it was about 20″ square, with an interesting repeated design. I’ll be starting a model of this soon as well. Probably when it’s done in fired red terracotta the pricing will run around $325, but it will be available in interior cast stone as well.