February 5, 2016

The Trouble with Large Ceramic Horses

I completed and framed five drawings for an upcoming exhibition of horses at Gallery West in North Columbia.  The gallery owner liked my small clay sculptural whistles as well so I offered to make horse  statuettes from the same caramel colored local clay.  I came up with  a small collection of horse statuettes in various lively positions; grazing, leaping, stretching.  I then decided to offer my agent two larger horse sculptures.  I was fascinated by the ceramic sculptures of horses from the Chinese Han and Tang dynasties and wanted to make something stylistically similar - a horse with a small, narrow head, a stout body, a large saddle and legs smaller at the back than the front. 
The idea of making larger horses was fine, but the execution was problematic.  How to make a large, heavy body on long legs using a plastic medium like clay?  It was not easy.  Even though I followed archeaological examples I found of ancient ceramic horses made with hollow bodies and solid legs, I could never time the drying time on the legs well enough so that they would support the heavy body.  Hence they would break off when I turned the horse right side up.  Not wanting to melt the clay horses down again, I would re-attach the legs, sometimes using clay melting vinegar, patch it up and wait.  It took a few weeks of carving, drying, re-hydrating then carving some more but they were finally roughed out.  Now the test will be to see if they remain intact through the final drying, sanding, burnishing, firing and pit firing. 
To get an idea of scale, I have photographed the original horse statuette underneath the larger version of the ceramic horse.  These larger horses might survive the tooling around yet to come. Given the trouble they were to create, however, I most definitely do not plan to make them again.

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