Tag Archives | bas relief

It’s All Swell!

Swellegent, that is! I mentioned the product in a post about the workshop I took with Christi Friesen last month. The Swellegent products are finely-ground metals suspended in a binder. They thin and clean up with water, which make them extremely easy to use, but because they are metal they can be oxidized or given a patina.

I thought they would make nice accepts on giftware, as well as being useful for things like tack hardware and shoes on those ceramic pieces that have them. I ordered the Copper version to test, thinking that it might compliment the crackle glazes on these Clinky Classic Challenge Awards. I added Copper on the cups being held by the horses right over the existing glaze, and then used the patina to darken it. As you can see, it matches the antique copper on the findings perfectly.

The slick surface did make it a little more difficult to handle, and I was glad that I was only adding the metal to a small area. I decided to try another experiment with one of my own Inspire tiles, this time leaving the bare bisque where the metal coating needed to go.

I really liked how the patina made the letters pop from the background, and it was much easier to get a smooth surface using the bare bisque. If leaving an area like the horseshoes on a figure is possible, I think that would be the way to go with this.

Overall I found the product much easier to use than fired-on lustres or even metallic paint. It does take a few days to fully cure, but I found that once it did it was pretty impervious to damage. The company does make a sealant, but even without it – and even on glaze – it did not flake off or scratch. My next test will be with to use the Iron on a horse with shoes, just to see how it holds up to that kind of handling.

For anyone interested, you can order Swellegent from Christi at this link. It comes in Copper, Brass, Iron, and Silver, with each 2 oz. bottle $6.50. One bottle should last quite a while – I did several tiles with nothing more than the residue inside the lid.


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Rookwood Faience

Fountain of the Water Nymph, 1913

As promised, here are some of the pictures of the Rookwood architectural faience. The fountain in this first picture was originally installed in the Rookwood showroom and was displayed there until the company was relocated to Mississippi in 1960. When the Cincinnati facility was dismantled the fountain was purchased by a real estate developer and installed in a bowling alley, of all places! And here I thought I was brave displaying ceramic horses in a house with young boys. At least I didn’t have to worry about someone tossing a bowling ball.

The fountain is actually made of tiles, which is obvious in this photo. The woman is a separate figure set on a tile base and added to the composition. I found this concept fascinating. I have concepts drawn out for future projects that involve sculptural tiles that fit together like a puzzle, but it never occurred to me that the tiles did not have to assemble across a flat surface, or that three-dimensional sculptural elements might be added.

Here is a detail shot of the bas relief pieces on the back. I wish I had taken more detail shots of all of these pieces.

Chimneypiece, 1903

This mantel was a custom design done on commission. At the turn of the last century a simple stock mantel of fairly plain tiles could be ordered for $8.75 (that’s $166 in modern dollars), and an elaborate one with mantels, brackets, shelves and bas relief tiles could cost as much as $210 (equivalent to almost $4000 today).

I found this interesting because my first bas relief, the Celtic Pony, was designed for the corners of my own fireplace. He never was installed because I realized I needed to do a reverse design for it to look right on the two sides. Oh, to have the time to design a whole mantel of pony tiles!

This next piece was a carved wooden mantel created for Rookwood in 1851, the childhood home of Maria Longworth Nicols Storer, founder of the Rookwood Pottery. It isn’t ceramic, of course, but I thought it was interesting to see how fine craftsmanship was a part of her upbringing.

Angels, 1920

I found these two pieces interesting because they are such large ceramic castings. They are apparently the only two ever made from the mold, and were done for the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. They were among the things that survived unharmed the 1970 that destroyed the church, although the glaze was slightly discolored.

The description card stated that the angel had been sculpted in clay and then cast with a “multi-part plaster mold”. I have to imagine the angels were themselves assembled from pieces, too. I’d hate to think how heavy those molds would have been wet, or how difficult the greenware would have been to transport. Of course, it makes it easier when your kiln is big enough to sit a dinner party.

The other thing that was striking about the Rookwood Pottery pieces on display was how very different the ceramic world was at that time. The pottery rose to fame largely through wins at competitions for ceramics. The idea of high-profile competitions for ceramic products was interesting in itself, but even more so because the items were cast. That is, at least in the modern ceramic world, just not done. Cast ceramics are not considered a legitimate art form in that community. I have always thought that was a shame because relegating casting to the ceramic ghetto is a big reason why ceramic mold-making is a dying art. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t always that way, so perhaps there is hope that one day the skill involved will be appreciated again.

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