• Sculpture of the week

    In addition to the new “Artifact of the month” feature in which I detail the story, history and more of each architectural artifact in my personal collection, I decided to start a new “Sculpture of the week” feature which will showcase one of my sculptures each week.

    Inspired by a terra cotta frieze on the historic Nortown Theater, Chicago, Illinois,
    ~ I present ~
    Art Deco Nortown Spandrel Panel Nr D5
    Nortown theater Art Deco D5 (Dirty Nickel finish)

     

    Nortown theater Art Deco D6 (Dirty Nickel finish)

     

    Nortown theater Art Deco D7

    While the Nortown theater is long gone, you will be able to enjoy the lovely design in your home. Fans of Art Deco may have seen the Nortown theater in Chicago, the theater featured many interior plaster decorations as well as exterior terra cotta elements. Some of the limited number of ornaments were salvaged and were for sale, most of these exterior pieces were quite large at over 30″ wide and 20″ high, 4-6″ deep, my version of this is in a more apartment/home friendly size/weight at a nominal size of  21-1/2″ by 13-3/4.
    The Nortown Theater was located at 6320 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL and was designed by J.E.O. Pridmore in 1931, the theater was demolished in the summer of 2007. On the facade there was a frieze band on the ground floor composed of 4 different panels assembled in a set about 17 feet long. There were 5 sets total. The sets consisted of 3 panels with this design 31″ wide, 21″ high, 5-6″ deep alternated with a “tragedy” and a “comedy” mask, and capped on both ends with a square geometric block. Thus, there were only 15 panels with this design and 5 each of the masks made, most were salvaged and offered by an antique firm in Chicago for $750 and an even  heftier price of $1850 respectively!
    After I modelled this first panel, I modelled the other two panels with the tragedy and comedy masks, thus, the series of three of these panels are completed and available individually or as a set.
    This ornaments on the building were probably made by the major company that supplied much of these to architects in Chicago- Midland Terra Cotta Co. It’s curtains for Nortown; 2 smaller cinemas to take place of old. Chicago Sun-Times, Aug 4, 2007 by Teresa Sewell The old Nortown Theater is finally coming down. The grand movie house hasn’t featured a film since 1990, but the building — famous for its striking seahorse, mermaid and zodiac motifs — has stood its ground at 6320 N. Western since 1931. Demolition of the Nortown began in 2007. Amrit Patel, who owns several Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins locations, wants to build a 70-unit, six-story condo building on the site.
    To purchase one of the interior cast-stone versions of this panel, they are priced $179 each and include shipping to your door;
    D5 is ALSO available in a hand-pressed, kiln fired red terracotta

     

    Nortown theater Art Deco D5 terracotta rear view

    These are made exactly like the original antique  terracotta pieces were.
    Each of theses terracotta sculptures are personally signed, numbered and dated works of art. Please note that hand pressed is NOT the same as the much cheaper, paper-thin ceramic “slip castings” used to produce teapots, china plates, bowls and ceramic pieces! The two processes are similar only in that both use a complicated plaster mold, the difference between slip casting ceramics and hand-pressing clay is- the slip is simply poured into the mold like a plaster cast, let set a while, drained and removed just like a plaster cast. Slip casting is a condensation process, with the clay particles condensing by gravity, slip castings are usually very weak, very thin, and easy to break, this process is used for mass production. Hand-pressed clay sculpture involves real work, physically taking the moist clay and both pressing and ramming small amounts of it into the plaster mold, pressing and working it in to remove air and squeeze the clay into all of the fine details. As the sculpture is built up to the top surface of the mold it is then levelled off on the back and hollowed out by hand, leaving the clay walls about 5/8″- 3/4″ thick.
    Once the pressed-clay has remained in the plaster mold used to form it for a few hours, it is carefully removed and laid on a wire rack to begin drying. Here is another difference- the pressed-clay sculptures are completely gone over by hand with sculpture tools to add back any fine details, accent others, and generally clean up the whole surfaces, this is exactly the same processes used to create all of the architectural terracotta found on old buildings my work is based upon. These sculptures are fired in the kiln @ 2,079 degrees for about 36 hours.

    Someone recently mentioned they “hate” terracotta because they had some in the garden that “fell apart,” please do not confuse THAT type of mass produced Chinese -JUNK sold for $9.95 at Walmart with fine hand-made sculpture! The reason their “terracotta” in the garden fell apart was that it was poorly made, poorly fired at the lowest possible temperature to save time and money, and the item was sold in garden stores cheap. This stuff is NOT real terracotta, I even suspect some of it is just red tinted plaster. Due to clays’ shrinkage, the terracotta version of my design is slightly smaller than the interior cast-stone version. NOTE: on the production time, I will try to keep a few of these on hand to ship quickly, however, if I happen to run out it WILL TAKE 3 weeks to make and dry one before it can be fired, 2 weeks of that is for the slow drying out process which can’t be rushed.

    SIZE: Nominal 12-1/8″ high by 19-3/4″ wide, 2″ deep. WEIGHT: 29#.

    These are priced $259 and include delivery to the lower 48 states, I only work with red terracotta.

    To order one of these this is the link to do so;
  • Architectural Artifact of the month (October 2019)

    Artifact: Keystone, lion with ring
    Material: Grey Terra Cotta
    Identification marks: 162. inscribed in clay on top
    Dim’s h/w/d: 22-1/2” x 14-3/5” x 10”
    Weight: 65#
    Origin: NYC tenement

    A number of buildings in NYC feature this Roman inspired lion with ring keystone design, both with the integrated top cornice shown and without. The keystones date to circa 1905.

    Lions depicted with rings in their mouth were popular back in the ancient Roman era and have been used in many different applications besides architectural keystones, such as drawer and cabinet pulls, carvings on furniture and soforth.

    This particular keystone is identical to a couple I salvaged in NYC in the 1970s/1980s, though it is in better condition. This one was painted over at some point with gold paint of all things, it took a lot of effort to remove the stupid paint to restore it back to the 100 plus year patina. The gold paint is shown in the second photo below.

     

     

     

  • My book: The Gargoyler of Greenwich Village (update)

    I am pleased to say I now have printing for the book arranged again and the quality of the printing is excellent as before. I tried an alternate printer that was a little less cost and as soon as I got the two samples I ordered I immediately regretted it, the photos were muddy and dark, the colors washed out and even the actual photos as printed were not as clear and were somewhat “hazy” as you can see in the photo below, the upper photo in each set is the alternate printer, the bottom was printed by Amazon/KDP, mind you the original Kodak print dates back to the 1970s and has damage to it that isn’t going to go away like magic at the printer, but you can clearly see how poor the alternate printer’s work was- darker, not clear, foggy or hazy, detail is lost, the colors are dull. In contrast the Amazon/KDP is warmer, clearer/sharper, no “haze” and more vibrant colors.

    These are just quick snaps with an iPhone of the two books laid on the kitchen counter;

     

     

    The gloss cover on both printed books however looked the same and excellent;

     

    You can order a signed, numbered copy directly from me for $35 total, ppd,  or you spend more and get it from Amazon for $39.95 plus tax and shipping but they won’t be signed or numbered as they won’t pass through my hands, link to order the book;

    My BOOK The Gargoyler of Greenwich Village

     

  • Sullivanesque panel Nr 3600 Morton School, Hammond, Indiana

    A client purchased a number of sculptures for his home, one was the Morton school Sullivanesque frieze. We decided to do this interior cast stone version for him in the aged buff yellow finish and I think anyone can agree it looks very “old world” an just like a weathered antique fresh off the demolition site!

    The Oliver P. Morton High School, built in 1936 was located at  7040 Marshall Avenue, Hammond, Indiana and was demolished in the late 1980s. Once in a while an oddball piece or two of original salvaged terracotta artifacts come up for sale at pretty high prices. Many have chips and other damage to them as well as inappropriate removal by powersaws of their back sections; supposedly to reduce the weight, but which instead severely weakens the artifact and destroys it’s integrity.

    The amount of  “excess” weight removed is miniscule, on what might be 85 pounds it’s removing at best 5 to 10 pounds.

    Nominal 13-1/2″ high by 15-1/2″ wide, 3″ deep WEIGHT: 22#.

    Read more at: https://www.urbansculptures.com/sculptures/3600.php
    Copyright © 2014 Randall’s Urban Sculptures

     

  • Morton school Hammond Indiana George Elmslie, Louis Sullivan Sullivanesque

    I’ve had this design in my lineup for  quite a while, but this week a client purchased a cast along with several others and I started thinking that since I need to order in some materials, maybe now would be a good time to order what I need to “convert” this design so it can also be offered in my hand-pressed kiln fired red terracotta.

    With an original selling for around $750 at salvage outfits I know there’s a lot of people who don’t want to pay $750 plus shipping for one of the originals, and only being able to obtain one, and it having chips and damage on top of that, but they would be interested in the design in a fired terracotta from me that can be purchased in the quantity they want or need at a quarter of that price,  and they don’t have to settle for damaged goods either!

    I’m going to have to make a new rubber mold to replace the old one I have for this as it is tearing due to the purple Quantum Silicones rubber I used years ago that turned out to be total garbage, once I do that I can  pour a rubber positive in the new mold and then make the plaster piece mold off that to use for pressing the clay version.

    The design is from the demolished Morton High School  (1936, Hammond Indiana) This was George Elmslie’s final project before his death. Elmslie was the chief ornamental designer for Louis Sullivan. This piece is cataloged as an M-5 Main building cornice from the book Architectural Ornament by Krutty and Schmitt.

    Louis Sullivan frieze Nr 3600

     

     

  • Hand-pressed red terracotta architectural leaf block

    Now I have the first hand-pressed red terracotta architectural leaf blocks done and ready to start drying, this will shrink somewhat and I have not priced these yet, but pretty soon I will know the exact size it will wind up, and a price determined.

    These would be very nice for accents or even in a row as a frieze band, they will be kiln fired, so they can be embedded into a brick or stone wall, or otherwise used outdoors.

     

     

     

    A timelapse video showing how these are made;

  • Washington Irving Louis Sullivan Sullivanesque pier capital model progress

    Working now on final cleaning up, detailing and refining, I haven’t had time to work on it the last couple of weeks as other projects and things needed my attention.

    I expect it will take quite a few more hours to finally get this done, the clay is getting firmer despite misting it with water and keeping it covered with plastic, so it needs to be finished as soon as I can get it done!

  • James W Scoville building terracotta

    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.

    https://www.urbansculptures.com/cart/product/sullivanesque-panel-after-james-w-scoville-chicago-nr-ls-2/

     

    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 !!

    https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-7945338/

    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)
    Date:
    1884-1885

  • The Jamws W Scoville Elmslie Sullivanesque panel kiln firing

    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.

     

     

  • First pressing of the James Scoville “Sullivanesque” terracotta panel

    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.

     

    First pressed panel

    A timelapse video of the whole process is here;

  • Washington Irving school, Hammond Ind W1 pier capital model started

    Washington Irving school pier capital
    Starting the model of the W1 pier capital

    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.

  • James Scoville Elmslie 1884 “Sullivanesque” mold

    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.

    Elmslie Scoville design mold
    Elmslie Scoville design mold work in progress

     

    Elmslie Scoville design mold
    Elmslie Scoville design mold completed.

     

    Elmslie Scoville design mold completed
  • Two new models in the works, Scoville lunette and Washington Irving school pier capital W-1

    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.

    Sullivan Elmslie design

    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.

  • Louis Sullivan, Elmslie, Sullivanesque terracotta

    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.