- 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;
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;
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.
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!
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.
A timelapse showing some basic rough texturing of the model’s background.
My purchased piece of Sullivanesque came today, from the 1936 Thomas A. Edison school, Hammond Indiana. The design is such that it could be situated either way shown in the first 2 photos, but hard to tell which way it was originally meant to be installed and was, it looks good either way it’s rotated, and the impressed numbers on one surface which I remember from the pieces in NYC were always on the TOP side. So which way did this go… it’s easier than it might seem to figure it out even without aphoto of the school to tell- the last photo up close tells the whole story, that black from coal soot in rain over decades would have stained the top surfaces not the bottoms, so the 2nd photo with the two small squares at the top divided into 4 smaller squares is the correct orientation.
The back was full of mortar and brick fragments, I removed most of it but since there is an old crack a few inches long I decided to leave that one compartment as is to continue to reinforce it.
Nice thing is, this terracotta block has it’s original depth, unfortunately it was cut out from a double panel that comprised two of these squares. Maybe the other half was damaged, maybe some misguided fool decided to try to cut the longer panel in half to make two smaller ones, who knows… but the damage is permanent on this 80+ year old artifact.
While I’m on this topic, there is unfortunately one misguided fool in Chicago who lately seems to be offering original so called “museum quality” pieces like this that he arbitrarily decides to CUT OFF the so called “dead weight” in the back with a power saw or similar in order to reduce the WEIGHT and make it “easier” to hang on the wall!
Good grief! he permanently destroys hand-made 80+ year old valuable artifacts like this just to remove all of MAYBE five pounds of weight off a piece like this that weighs about 40 pounds, and in the process he destroys the strength and structural integrity of the piece by cutting the back and leaving only about an inch thick left of just the front, stupid! stupid! stupid!
Another issue is these hand-pressed terracotta artifacts all have incized or impressed numbers and letters on them- the very part the fool cuts off with power tools! those letters and numbers are part of the original setting/contract/mold numbering system used to install the pieces in the wall in the proper order on the blueprints, it positively connects the artifact to a specific unique building and maker, think of it like a serial number.
Removing a lousy five or ten pounds off a sculpture that weighs 40 or 50 pounds is useless and makes absolutely no difference for hanging it or displaying it, in fact this piece is self standing BECAUSE it has it’s full depth, once that is cut away it no longer can do that and all it takes then is tipping or falling over once and it will break into multiple pieces and be destroyed.
If you want something to hang on the wall, do it RIGHT with the proper anchor or bracket, or buy a reproduction to do that with it, don’t destroy or support someone who destroys these artifacts like this just to hang it on a wall or shave five pounds off it!
So what numbers am I speaking of on these pieces?
Here’s an example on a keystone I own
When the so called “dead weight” of sawing 2 or 3 inches off the back of one of these artifacts is done, these historic, identifying numbers are lost forever. No museum I ever know of has ever altered artifacts in any destructive way like that, and calling any such wrecked artifacts “museum quality” is blatantly false advertising and destroying historic antiques on a whim, don’t be part of that destruction!