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 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.
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.
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;
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.
Hope to finally finish this Sullivanesque pier capital to-morrow, the clay is getting pretty firm despite being covered with plastic and spritzed with water, so it needs to be finished now.
It’s amazing how much time this design takes, probably twice what other models I’ve done have taken, there’s a lot of detail packed in on the surface!
I still have 5 of the 8 “squares” along the sides- the 4 on the right and the bottom left one to finish refining and cleaning up and then it’s done.
Now that the model is done it is drying out.
There is an 11 minute long timelapse video showing the whole modelling process on this start to finish over 3 months;
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.
I decided to make a mold of one of these ca 1880 leaf blocks that came from a frieze band on a mansion in Newark NJ that was demolished. It’s a nice little design and it will be quick and easy to make these in red terracotta like the original.
Now it will have to dry out for a couple of weeks before I can use it.
This is exactly what they used in ca 1880 to make the originals, though it was about 5-10% larger.
The design could be a styled boxelder tree leaf, there’s not a lot of trees that have leaves like the terracotta block has, but there are a few, of which the boxelder appears to be most similar;
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 $329