- This attractive repeating Art Deco design originally was made in individual nickel plated bronze pieces. The pieces when bolted together formed a repeating motiff lintel across the top of the interior entrance doorway of the Women’s House of Detention.The Jail was located at 6th Ave behind the present day Jefferson Market Public Library which was originally a courthouse.The New York Women’s House of Detention is believed to have been the world’s only art deco prison. It was designed by Sloan and Robertson in 1931 and opened to the public with a luncheon on March 29, 1932.The courthouse, and jail, the latter which was subsequently opened in 1934 (demolished 1973) was the scene of the notorious Harry K Thaw murder trial of renowned architect Stanford White in 1906.I rescued several of the individual bronze pieces, the rest were scrapped during demolition, the original lintel was about 8 feet long. I have made a mold of one of the sections and have several configurations available.I have a book I saw in a list of references in an article on this building, I was hoping for some photos and didn’t know what to expect of the actual contents. Anyway it’s titled Hellhole; the shocking story of the inmates and life in the New York City House of Detention for Women. By Sara Harris, Dutton 1967. It starts out detailing the jail building and the horrid conditions, rats, roaches, overcrowding, the lousy staff/correction officers/doctors and system that was a total failure in every possible way.The city was paying correction officers and doctors on call about $90 a month flat fee, so needless to say the morale to do work wasn’t there, nor were the quality of the medical services. The women only jail saw mostly drug addicts and prostitutes, most all of whom were repeatedly put in there- which clearly shows how the entire criminal justice and court system was a total failure. The book goes on to take general leave of the conditions of the jail and staff treatment of prisoners, and starts diving right into much more detailed case histories and interviews with a number of former and present inmates. Harris’ interviews took her to the worst slums in Harlem. Her subjects recounted their time in this jail and coping with a constant barage of rats, dirty bedding with mice nests inside, toilets that leaked on the floor, the homosexual attacks on new inmates and the gang/protection racket amongst the various factions within the prisoners. They further recounted the lack of medical services and a number of instances where inmates with serious mental or physical problems were not given treatment or given the standard pills they handed to everyone who had a medical complaint of any kind- drug withdrawl pills. Harris’ interviews showed graphically how the entire cycle began, and why the women wound up being incarcerated over and over again- one woman arrested 28 times- for the same crimes.The mystery of why someone in the system didn’t start thinking there had to be a better way, treatment for drug addictions and a help up out of the poverty and lack of skills that resulted in prostitution and stealing. The lack of skilled staff and quality medical care, the city’s dire budgetary shortfalls, and the poorly designed “system” all came together in the most disasterous fashion, and the results were a revolving-door of the same pathetic addicted inmates, and ineffectively dealing with the root causes of the problems that brought them there in the first place. It appears as though the “blame” was largely and inappropriately placed upon The “Women’s House of Detention” building when in reality, the jail was a visible and dark symptom of the much larger, totally ineffective and broken- criminal justice, legal, and social welfare system.The problem was not so much “the building” as it was the city, poor budget and the quality of staff that $90 a month salary could obtain. I’m not so certain that the ubiquitous rats, roaches, filth, overflowing toilets and poorly trained abusive staff were not symptomatic of all such detention facilities given the budget shortfalls, poorly paid staff and overburdoned court system. In the end, as a “solution” to neighborhood complaints it was the building that was demolished, the system apparently was not fixed nor were the budget problems addressed. Indeed, now, as then, the faces appearing in the facilities and courts are young black poverty stricken, addicted and hopeless people caught up in the system and it’s revolving door cycle of arrest, release back on the street with no job, or money with which to buy food or pay rent, and untreated drug addictions for which the person needs exorbitant amounts of money to support. One can’t help but wonder if these issues are the same today, with only the inmate faces and the addiction of choice being the bulk of any change since the 1960’s Harris’ book has no photos or images, but the details of the stories leaves the readers with more than enough of a series of mental images as clear as any photos she could have included.The sculpture is now available in two sizes, large and original;Copyright © 2019 Randall’s Urban Sculptures
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;
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!
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.
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.
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.