• 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;
  • Washington Irving school Sullivanesque Pier Capital

    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;

     

  • 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;

  • Leaf block mold for hand-pressed red terracotta

    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;

     

  • 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;

  • George Elmslie/Scoville building design mold ready

    George Elmslie/Scoville building design

    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

     

  • 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
  • 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.

     

     

  • Master mold for the Elmslie/Sullivanesque James W Scoville building design

    With the plaster backing done for the rubber positive I made yesterday, I removed the assembly from the rubber mold. Once the plaster backing on this master positive is soaped up well, I can make the plaster piece-mold of this for pressing the terracotta into, The piece mold will be made in at least 5 pieces, most likely about 8 pieces.
    It won’t happen very soon as I used up the very last bag of pottery plaster I had on hand and I’ll have to order more along with some other materials and I need some more clay, but I don’t want to order clay when it’s below freezing, so I may order the clay in the spring and order the plaster and other stuff I need now- soon!

     

  • Model from the James W. Scoville, Adler, Sullivan, Elmslie Chicago building

    I’ve begun the process last night to take my design  towards making it in hand-pressed kiln fired terracotta, that requires two additional mold making steps, the first of which is making a rubber positive master cast using the new rubber mold, the second step is making a plaster piece-mold taken off the rubber positive.

    Shown below is the rubber positive that was poured in last night- the remaining cavity not filled with that amber colored rubber will be filled with plaster to save on expensive rubber since only the face is the important portion of the design.

    The amount of rubber shown in the mold was 2 gallons total, and this cost just about $200, so it’s easy to see how much it would cost to fill this the rest of the way up with this rubber!

    Once this rubber is cured and the cavity filled to the top with plaster, it’s taken apart and the plaster and rubber master positive can be used to make the plaster piece mold.

    This is similar to the way this was done for the originals my work is based on, though the final plaster piece molds are made identically to the way they were for these pieces back in the 19th  and early 20th century when these ornaments were used on building facades.

    All of the Sullivan/Elmslie designed terracotta ornaments were made exactly the way I make them- hand-pressed clay into plaster piece-molds, and then final finishing and detailing all done by hand one at a time.

    model from the James W. Scoville, Adler & Sullivan designed, Chicago building
  • Another model from the James W. Scoville, Adler & Sullivan designed, Chicago building

    The Virginia Museum of fine art  which has a few artifacts from this building also has at least one of these lunettes with a very similar design on it as the spandrel panels have.

    I like the shape of it as well, I have no plans to but easily could make the surrounding flat pieces for it if a client wanted them.

    I will be working on this model very soon, of course it takes time and this type of work is done when I have time, and more time for the various mold making processes to get done, but progress photos will come along here soon enough.

    This would most likely be priced around $325 in fired red terracotta.

    The museum has their artifact sized 18-1/4″ x 18-1/2″ and 4″ deep, this size would fit into my existing kiln, so this is another design I can keep my model of full sized like the originals and offer both interior cast-stone this size but less deep to hang ON the wall, and hand-pressed terracotta which will be slightly smaller due to the shrinkage of the clay but made a nominal  3″ deep which can be additionally used outdoors in the garden or embedded into a brick or stone wall of any type.

    1973 HABS photo before demolition (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

     

    Jame scoville building elevation view (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

    Dankmar Adler, 1844-1900
    Louis Sullivan, American, 1856 – 1924 (Architects) Northwestern Terra Cotta Co., probably modeled by, Kristian Schneider  1884-1885

    A photo of the grey painted artifact in the museum which is not on public view at the museum, appears here; https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-7946023/

    The artifact they have is a gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

     

  • Louis Sullivan “Sullivanesque” design

    I just ordered the two  gallons of pourable mold rubber I need to “convert” my “Sullivanesque” design that was recently finished- into a form I can take a plaster piece mold from for pressing terracotta into. Two gallons is not enough to fill the mold, it is only enough to pour about 1″ deep, the rest of the depth will have to be plaster to save on the costs of not having to buy two more gallons of expensive  rubber.

    Sullivanesque model finished