Louis Sullivan winged lion
From my blog, details about this sculpture finished last spring, and a few photos;
The antique original that inspired my model is on a Sullivan designed bank in Grinnel Iowa.
I had to custom build a modelling stand for the 800# model before I started.
I decided this fall to model a full sized full bodied sculpture after this pair of winged lions outside the Merchants bank. One of the lions was smashed twice by being pulled over, and subsequently repaired. It was never installed right to prevent that in the first place, that it happened AGAIN in 2008 after being “restored” a few years earlier, is inexcusable.
The other lion had some cracks in it and was removed, it was said both were going to either be repaired, or replaced.
The lions are at sidewalk level, and they measure 48″ tall from back paws to the wing tips, so these are quite large!
With the economy the way it is, and will be for some time to come, I don’t foresee a market for general sales on this, so chances are he will sit as unfired greenware on a dolly in my studio for quite some time before I do anything with it, but it’s a project I just have to do!
This will be the largest, heaviest, most involved model I’ve done yet, it will require a lot of special techniques, new-to-me techniques and processes, creative solutions and much more.
I am glad I have a half ton chain hoist in my studio though.
Almost impossible to see unless you know it’s there and look carefully, the top of the modelling stand has a sheet of glass. I decided to use the glass rather than sheet plastic to prevent moisture from the clay from warping or damaging the plywood top even though it is urethaned, because over weeks of constant contact even that polyurethane will be affected by the constant moisure.
The glass is the perfect solution, it’s totally flat, smooth,and impervious to water.
The base of the lion shown is 17″ wide and 25-1/2″ long, all measurements are to be 10% larger than the 1914 drawing.
Now I stop here on the model so that I may study the drawing and photos, make notes, adjust measurements on a scrap of paper for that +10%, and print out some reference photos to look at while working.
I decided to go with the course red clay for the lion model, cone 06 to cone 4 firing range, this test sample was fired to cone 1 where it takes on a nice deep rich brick red color, the brick red I am familiar with, not the so called “brick red” clay I’ve seen that looks more salmon or brown than red to me. At cone 4 it says it turns “brick red” but the sample photo on their web site looks more like leather brown, definitely brown and that’s not “brick red” to me at all.
The clay has 20% of 20 mesh grog and I believe also 30 mesh, and it’s made for handbuilding large 4 foot high pieces with thick walls.
I ordered a half ton of it today @ $330 and with the truck shipping on a skid running about $125, I’ll have $450 into it for clay, plus the steel stand materials, plywood and 4 casters. Looks like about $600 is what it will cost me to get this started.
I could order a ton of this clay for around $550 and the shipping would only go up a little, but since I already have 750# of the raku clay on hand I just bought what I needed for this model.
Hand building the lion out of wet clay, with an estimated weight of 800# or more requires not only some mobility method, but something to raise it up to working level, at least the most important portion of it- the face.
So I designed and built this custom made modelling stand out of heavy steel for this task.
I used 2″ x 2″ x 1/4″ steel angles for the 4 legs, 2″ x 1/4″ flat steel for the diagonal bracing, and heavy wall 1″ tube for the top and bottom with which to bolt the top and bottom plywood to, and to hold it all together nice and secure.
I have the steel portion finished, and primed now as shown, and Tuesday the heavy duty 4″ casters with a capacity of 550# each will arrive. Next week I’ll laminate a plywood top and one for the bottom using 3 layers of 3/4″ thick plywood.
The base was originally built up on top of a sheet of safety glass on top of the plywood to keep the moisture from warping the plywood. But unfortunately the glass prevented moisture from drying out of the bottom, which resulted in it drying mostly from the top and sides, and that started causing the slab to want to warp upwards and crack.
As it warped up a bit I broke the glass and was able to get some of it out but the model at 825# was too heavy and too fragle to attempt to lift till now.
But it’s no big deal I can re-contour the bottom of the slab to a flatness, having already done that to the top and side a while back to remove most of the warp. With the bottom flattened out by shaving it down, it will stand on it much better.
The cracks in the base however are a concern for structural stability
so I am keeping the hoisting straps on it for the time being, that’s a lot of weight now supported on less base and the base has cracks across it that I’ve cosmetically filled.
I waited just a little too long to cut the head off while the clay was soft enough to do so, that may need a carbide sawzall blade to do now as trying with ordinary blades dulled them in a few seconds!
I wanted to remove the head and hollow it and the body a bit more and evenly, and then attach something inside to the table for stability just in case so the body can’t fall over should those base cracks weaken further.
I didn’t want to do too much along that line earlier due to the instability and softness, but I waited just a wee bit too long.
I estimate he weighs around 600-650 pounds right now.
Now that the lion is finally mostly dry except for the base which gave me a bit of trouble all along, I hoisted him up carefully to insert a couple of blocks to rest it on so the bottom of the base can dry out better.
The modelling of this is pretty much finished, at least what would be visible in photos like this. That
leaves the surface cleanup and refining the small details as to what is left to do.
I may still add the lettering the originals had, i.e “MERCHANTS NATIONAL BANK 1914″ to the face of the shield, but this would have to be done with incized lettering rather than raised as the originals had.
I believe the original master models’ lettering may have been metal, wax or wood founders’ letters applied onto the surface of the clay, and while the model was still damp they made the mold of him.
After a few changes and tweeks to the face I’m a lot happier with it, I also started the wings.
I hope to have this substantially finished this weekend for the majority of the add-on and subtractive work, leaving the finishing detailing and surface detailing as the bulk of what is left to do.
This tops out right about 825 pounds and the photo just doesn’t give the sense of just how big this is.
Now that the model is dry I hoisted it down to a dolly on the floor
Art patrons should be able to file malpractice lawsuits against bad art
Last edited by Randall; 02-15-2012 at 08:58 AM.