Sometimes ignorance is a gift: it obscured the sheer folly of my third sculpting project: recreating a masterpiece from antiquity.
Wanting desperately to learn the essence of true beauty and to train my eyes and hands how to sculpt, I endeavored to reproduce one of the most beautiful sculptures ever created–the Belvedere Torso. Standing sentinel today at the entrance to the Vatican Museum, this piece, created in ancient Greece, was rediscovered at the time of Michelangelo and is thought to have inspired and informed his figurative paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is the personification of pure beauty.
I began by producing a maquete, or small rendering, of the piece to learn the basic shape. I would be building the piece hollow and would need to understand its physics. Then scale-up began in earnest.
Lesson #1: Never take a year to build a large clay sculpture. The moisture content of water-based clay must be carefully managed–remaining high to allow modeling, then uniformly drying to ensure integrity of the realized form.
Having only a few hours each week to work on the piece, I spent half my sculpting time swaddling it to
preserve it until my next sculpting session. One evening, I tried using wet rags rather than the typical multiple layers of moist paper towels. That night, the legs collapsed.
Lesson #2: Never build a clay sculpture larger than the kiln available for its firing. In other words, size does matter.
Two hundred pounds of clay later, my torso was complete and ready for firing. Kiln size and type must be matched to the requirements of the piece; thus, the search began for a kiln large enough to handle my creation. Luckily, we identified a kiln-master in Baltimore willing to accept the challenge of firing this long-in-the-making torso.
Another keen consideration is timing of transport: too early and the moist clay will take on every dent or scratch and yet once the piece has dried, it is at its most fragile state and can crack or shatter upon touch.
Miraculously, my torso not only made the trip up I-95, but at the experienced hands of Sam, the kiln-master there at Baltimore Clayworks, the torso emerged from the firing process in one golden-hued, magnificent piece.
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