Someone recently asked me about “chimers”. A chimer is a ceramic horse that makes a clinking sound – chimes – when you rattle it. Collectors have traditionally held that chimers are lucky, though I am not sure how that belief got started. Perhaps it was from the relief that the rattling sound in the newly-arrived box wasn’t coming from a broken horse!
The chime comes from a small bit of clay trapped inside the body of the horse. To show how this happens, I took some pictures of what happens to a horse right after it is taken out of the mold.
But first I should explain, for those that haven’t seen a ceramic horse poured, that the horses are upside down in the mold. They are feet-up, rather than feet-down. The slip is poured down a long pour hole into their bellies. After the clay has formed a skin inside the mold cavity, the mold it tipped back over and the excess clay is drained. That’s why the larger areas of our horses are hollow. Eventually the plaster pulls enough moisture from the clay that it hardens to a leathery stage. At that point the clay along the walls of the pour hole are removed.
This guy is a raw casting just pulled from the mold. You can see the opening created by the pour hole. The trick is to create a pour hole large enough that the slip can drain easily, but small enough that the belly doesn’t require major reconstruction.
This is the stage where most horses acquire their chiming bits. Small pieces from the pour hole clay often fall into the body when that clay is removed. I give my horses a few gentle shakes to encourage any remaining bits to fall out, but the clay is still damp at this point. Bits can stick slightly to the interior of the body, only to fall free once they dry. We can’t, however, leave a huge gap in his belly until he dries.
That hole has to be plugged while the horse is still damp so the clay bonds properly. Here I’ve cut a small circle to fit the hole in the belly. I’ve added more liquid clay around the edges, and set the plug inside the gap.
Now I’ve taken an Xacto blade and blended the borders between the plug and the body. I don’t want any chance this area could develop a crack during firing. This is another time when a small bit of clay (or a drip from the slip around the edges) can get trapped inside the body.
Once the belly is plugged, I will take a drill bit (not the drill, just the bit) and make the air hole. Anything that is hollow needs an air hole to fire properly. I drill a hole large enough that I can stilt the horse on a post later when the glaze is fired. Glaze would fuse to the kiln floor during firing, so the horses either have to go on posts or be ‘dry footed’. Most Hagen-Renaker pieces are dry-footed – they have no glaze on the bottoms of their hooves. Most artist-produced earthenware chinas are posted.
So here my guy is with his post hole. I’ve also attached his tail, also with an air hole. Most of the time the horses are cast in one solid piece, but sculptures with thin tail attachments (like this Arab, and like Sarah’s recently released Dafydd) have tails that are cast separately and attached afterwards. That’s because the tail could not drain properly. The thin area at the base of the tail would harden and trap the wet clay inside the tail. A heavy, solid tail would put too much stress on the tail attachment. What’s worse is that slip also tends to sink inward, so I’d have a heavy, collasped tail!
Here you can see my really high-tech pony drying rack! I cut circular sponges in half, then cut a scoop along the top to hold the belly. This keeps the most of the weight off the legs so they don’t warp while drying, but still keeps the horse upright so the legs don’t warp to either side. I also cut a small scoop from the bottom so the sponge doesn’t stress that forward-most hindleg.
I checked this guy this morning, since he was completely dry, and he is silent. No chimes this time.