Tag Archives: sculpture

Two Favorites

I visited the city on Wednesday, August 9, the city being my city, Philadelphia. My husband had a meeting at his downtown office and I decided to take the ride in and go look around.

It was a beautiful day. I rarely go into Philadelphia anymore, but for many years I was here every day – I worked in several different locations (for the same employer) in Center City and in the historic district. I also drove all over the place for my job, so I know a lot about the entire city; but it’s the hub of things I want to talk about today.

On this walk, I visited two of my favorite art pieces, both public art. I’ll show you a little bit and then, if you are interested, you can find more info on the internet or…you can visit Philadelphia!

All right. We’ll start with some relief sculptures on this building.

It’s the US Courthouse (now Robert C Nix Federal Building) and the William Penn Annex of the post office. The building is quite large – it extends a half block on Market Street and goes all the way through the block to Chestnut Street.

The reliefs I am interested in are along the 9th street facade. They were the work of Edmond Amateis and commissioned by the government through the WPA to ornament this 1930’s building.

They depict mail delivery and show it taking place in far-flung locations. I have always loved these sculptures for their style and beauty, and for the idea that mail delivery unites the world, with people working hard to get a letter where it needs to go.

Here they are: they are arranged in two pairs. You will notice a difference in the look of the reliefs – two were in the sun and two in shadow.

First, the cowboy and the city postman:

Next, mail delivery in the tropics and in the far north:

Every time I am in the neighborhood I stop to take a look. For more information look here.


Now, my other favorite. It’s Dream Garden, a huge mosaic located in the lobby of the Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut Streets, right next to the Independence Hall complex. I worked in a building around the corner for some time and when I needed a respite, I’d come over and visit the mural.

It was designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by the Tiffany studios. Many many small pieces of glass, iridescent, opaque, all glowing. It was installed in 1916 in this building, at the time the home of Curtis Publishing (Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post). The building itself is fascinating and beautiful, but I am showing you just the mosaic today.

As a note – there are a lot of pictures on the internet, better than mine – here is its official entry by its owner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The mosaic was almost lost to the city about 20 years ago, when its owner died and the heir proposed selling it to a Las Vegas casino. In a complicated transaction with public donations and the cooperation of other beneficiaries under the will, the mosaic became the property of PAFA and is now protected as a historic object.

I noticed some “band-aids” on the mosaic that were not there when I last saw it.

A bit of research told me that construction elsewhere in the building had shaken the structure a year ago and damaged the mosaic. I can’t find details on what the restoration plan is, except that it is being studied for repair. I feel better knowing it is in the care of a museum, at least. Anyway, my pleasure was not diminished by the “band-aids”.

All right, now you’ve seen them. My favorites.


Art Camp Day 6 – August 8

I’ve decided to sign up for another week at Art Camp Claudia McGill. So we’ll see what we do there this week. Hard to say, because the counselor doesn’t tell me, the lone camper, what we will be doing until I arrive. Each day is a surprise.

Today’s session involved concrete. Or, to be more correct, mortar mix.

As background, after last week’s stone carving session, I couldn’t get concrete carving out of my mind. What pushed me into it, though, was the half-used bag of mortar mix we had on hand after doing some re-grouting of the bricks on our house.

Mortar mix is a pre-mixed version of concrete specially formulated for non-load-bearing purposes, usually to bond together or fill surfaces such as in brick walls. It behaves in the same manner as concrete as far as carving. Maybe even better, since it is very fine and contains no irregularities.

Mortar mix small 8-16

I decided to keep things simple. I would create small shapes in free-form concrete, let them set up, and carve them into a herd of stone-age-art animals. This way I didn’t need forms or molds, which I hadn’t stockpiled. Each animal would be small, so that if it went wrong from a technical standpoint, such as breaking in half or large parts falling off during carving – well, the whole project wouldn’t be a disaster. I felt it important to work this way because it’s been a long time since I did any concrete carving and I questioned my skills.

OK. I assembled my tools. We had stopped at the thrift shop on the weekend to buy some basics – serrated knives, a table knife, and some pointy spoons, spending about $4. (A grapefruit spoon is even better, with its toothed end, but hard to find). And what I had on hand –  A rasp (an old one, as concrete is ruinous to a nice rasp). Latex gloves (concrete eats skin, leaving little sores that really hurt). A bucket of water. A trowel. Rags. A couple of cardboard boxes. A large mixing container, one that I have used in the past. I also brought the hose around to the work area.

I took all these things outside. I then put some mortar mix into the mixing container. I didn’t measure it, as all I was adding was water, and I would decide on the proportions by eye and feel. Mortar mix is very powdery and should not be breathed in. So I used a small plastic container to transfer it from the bag, rather than pouring. If I were doing a large project, I would wear a mask for this stage.

I then added water, slowly, from the bucket, and mixed it with the trowel. I wanted it to be quite stiff, so that it would hold a shape. I was satisfied when things looked like this:

Mortar mix mixed small 8-16

I let it sit about 15 minutes, then I began shaping it into forms. The technique is to grab up a handful and pat it together, with some force. Concrete cannot be pressed as clay can – it needs to settle into itself. If I were putting concrete into a form, for example, I would then vigorously tap the sides of the form to get the concrete to settle and compress.

I created a crowd of shapes and set them in the cardboard to set up. Concrete does not “dry” – it “cures”. It’s a chemical bonding that continues through the life of the object – concrete just continues to harden. Forever.

I cleaned the mixing container with the hose and went away and left things for four hours. When I came back, I could mark the concrete with my fingernail, but the shape itself did not budge. Knowing when to start carving is a judgement call and takes practice. The shape has to hold up to pressure but also needs to be soft enough to work with. Additionally, time passes as carving goes on, and the shape gets harder, so that needs to be taken into account. I had a lot of animals to carve and I would need to work fast.

My first step was always to rasp or carve away the “skin” on the outside of the shape.

Concrete in progress small 8-16

After that, I looked over each shape and tried to find an animal in it. I guess it took me about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of work to assemble a herd.

Concrete animals finished small 8-16

I used the knives, rasp, and spoons about equally. They each have their strengths. Knowing how the tools work is also something gained through practice. I worked tentatively at first but it came back to me and I worked more fluidly as time went on.

A fair amount of debris is created. After each animal I cleared my board by tossing the leftovers into a paper bag to be thrown out later.

Once I was done, I thoroughly washed each item in the bucket (I had also used the water here to wash my hands at intervals). It is essential to get every bit of concrete off the tools. It will set and cannot be removed later. I also rinsed all work surfaces with the hose and later came out and rinsed off my clothes and the rags I used before putting them in the washer. Under no circumstances can anything be washed in a sink inside – concrete will flow down the pipes and, as it can set underwater,  will block them. So, if you do concrete, remember this fact, if you remember nothing else!

I then left the animals outside overnight. The next morning, I came out and rinsed them with the hose.

If I were making larger items, or ones prone to cracking, such as stepping-stones, I would wrap each item in a wet towel and cover it in plastic, so that it would go through the initial stages of curing very slowly. I’d leave them in this state for about a week. With these little animals, though, it’s not as likely they will have those problems, so I will just come out and rinse them several times a day for a couple of days. I also have them set in the shade – the sun is not good for curing concrete.

OK! Stone age animals made. I’ll take some better pictures in a week or so, when they are ready to join the world.

I Am Unique

This lady is about 3" tall or so. Terracotta clay with Velvet underglazes, fired at cone 05.

This lady is about 3″ tall or so. Terracotta clay with Velvet underglazes, fired at cone 05.

When I work in clay, I seem to be attracted to doing a series, or even several different series at the same time. I like exploring the individuality of similar items. So if I make one small figurine in a painted dress, you can be pretty sure there will be more. And more. Until one day I just get tired of them and stop. No more!

Once in a while, though, I make just one. Maybe I don’t keep going because the first one wasn’t interesting to me for some reason. Or, sometimes, one is just enough.

This figurine was composed of leftover pieces of clay from other items. She’s a little rectangle-box-shaped lady with four tiny feet.

Maybe I’ll make her some cousins and sisters someday. Not right now. I do like her, though.

Neighborhood Under Construction

I’ve been making these small clay houses for a while. I do a few every so often. They are two or three inches high.

I use mid-fire clays, choosing different colors as the mood strikes me. I construct the house and then let it dry for a while, until it holds its shape but is still a little flexible.

I use underglazes to paint the houses. I try hard to coat them evenly, but if it doesn’t work out that way, I don’t worry. I also choose colors that will contrast with the underlying clay color.

Then I take my needle tool and incise the clay to outline the various features.

I like these little houses. I plan to make more and more of them. It’s the kind of object that you can play with – I have always loved houses and I can very easily fall into quite a daydream about these little residences and their occupants as I move them around.

Catching Up on Some Different Situations

I’m going to talk about several different things here. It’s time to get caught up. Here we go.

Remember the latest three painted stone figurines I mentioned? The ones I set out in separate places because I couldn’t put them in the usual spot unobserved? I’ve got them all back together now. It just seemed like something I had to do. So here they are.

I also set out a figure that I made some time ago. She’s quite heavy, so I put her in the abandoned train control box nearest the parking lot. I thought it might be easier on whoever might want her, as far as transportation to the car goes.

And here is a cat. A white cat. Another painted stone creature. I made it earlier this summer and I meant to drop it off on the porch of my collage friends Anna, Liv, Luke, and Nellie. Never got around to it. So – I took it over there when I visited last week.


Stray Cat

I’ve made some figurines from stones I picked up in Lorimer Park. They were different from this little cat figure – I painted them with acrylics and in doing so obliterated their original characteristics as stones.

While collecting those rocks, I found this one, and I saw a cat in it. I really liked the colors in the rock and I decided to see what I could do with it while altering it as little as possible.

So, this cat has clay eyes and nose, a twig for a mouth, and copper wire whiskers. Seemed to be enough.

Cat (stone, clay, twig, and copper wire) About 5" high or so

(stone, clay, twig, and copper wire)
About 5″ high or so

January Kicks Off With Some Attention to Clay

I like January. It’s not a popular month, I think – maybe because the many events in December leave everyone tired out. And new beginnings can have their own kind of pressure. But I like January. And it’s the first month of a plan I’ve developed for the whole year. Now, I don’t have all the details, as I’m making up things as I go along, to some extent. But I’ve decided to make each month special this year, each one having its own activities and themes and projects. I’m not talking about the holidays already on the calendar, although I might borrow from them. I mean that I’m going to have a whole year of Claudia-festivals and events. Things I like to do, things that I want to do and maybe haven’t gotten to, and things I’m maybe curious about or have been promising myself to try.

And I mean to enjoy every activity. Nothing appears on the Claudia-festival lineup that she doesn’t like doing.

Last but not least, I’m not over-planning. Just a few things for each month. And if I decide I want to drop an activity, well, I can just do that.

So now you have the background for one of my plans for January. In the spirit of new beginnings, I have returned to my clay work, after having done no clay since my hand surgery in May, 2013. I’ve given a lot of thought to this medium and what I want to be doing with it. In the past I was focused on improving my work and making items with the intention of selling them. I tried lots of different projects.

Now, I want to do two things. I still want to sell some of my work, and I’ve decided to focus on tiles. I really enjoy making them, and I enjoy the shows that I go to that feature them. I like making series of tiles and themes – it takes time to work through some of my ideas. Tiles are just great for this way of working.

I also want to make what we’ve called “goddess” figurines. I’ve been making them for some years, all kinds of sizes. Each one has a personality and I love the process of making a figure and seeing it reveal itself. The figurines don’t sell well, though, and in the past that discouraged me. So now I’ve decided to think about things differently.

All along, people see to have viewed them as protectors, confidants, meditation figures. One woman told me she intended to put the group she bought on her desk at work so that there would be somebody on her side when things got rough in the office. I gave one to a friend of mine who put her to work keeping an aggravating neighbor in check.

Back in the summer, my family and I placed three figurines in a little rocky grotto area in a park along a trail where I run. It had become an informal spot for remembrances, it seemed – there were other objects set there – tiles, wind chimes, a big painted wooden face. The three figures lasted about three months and then were gone. Not broken, as there were no pieces – I believe someone needed them and took them. That was great, I thought. We put three more in place. A couple of times I ran by and saw that someone had put a pile of change in front of them – the money stayed there until this group, too, were gone. Once again, no pieces – so I know someone needed them and took them along.

I have three more to put in place when I can get to the park again. And all of this gave me an idea about my figurines. I decided no longer to sell them. Just give them to people who seem to need encouragement, who I want to thank or appreciate, or who just like them and express an interest. And I also want to continue setting them out in public. People do seem to like seeing them, and if someone wants to take them home, I hope they will do so.

So I’ve been working. For one of my January activities, I’ve designated it as “Clay Each Day” month. I hope to make something in clay each day (one tile counts!). And at the end of the month, I should have plenty for firing.

Here are some photos of my clay work so far, on the shelves in the basement where it is stored to dry or to await a firing. I have two sets of figurines. The larger ones are for me to give to someone, whoever wants or needs one. They are bigger, and I have also decided to give each one some item to hold, representing something that I think is important – a house, a bird, a wrench – they all mean something.

The smaller ones are for leaving around wherever I think they might fit in – they have open hands and are ready to do whatever work they need to do!

So if you feel you need a figurine…you know who to ask…