Sunday, August 8, 2010


Sculpture Materials; Black Ash Burl, Moose Antler, Birchbark, Iron, Sealing Wax, Pine Pitch, Lead.
Base Materials; Copper, Iron, Leather.
Height (including base); 24 inches.

I began sketching my ideas for this sculpture in February 2010. My inspiration came from an early 19th century Ottawa sculpture illustrated in the book, Splendid Heritage, by John and Marva Warnock, 2009. The original carving is believed to have been made by the Ottawa carver, Chief Blackbird, for a Jesuit mission sometime before 1840.

My sculpture is not a strict reproduction of the original. I made several changes, seeking to add my own inspirations, yet staying within the authentic historic parameters of material, design and construction methods common to early Native American carvers of the Great Lakes region.

I chose Black Ash for the body as it is indigenous to the Great Lakes region, as well as the historic home of the Ottawa people. I colored the wood by constructing a smoke chamber and feeding a small fire of cedar and pine bows for two days. My intent was to obtain a patina and color that is so often associated with wooden objects darkened by many years within a native lodge.

The hands and feet are pierced with antique hand-forged iron nails and are secured with very old red sealing wax. Like the original, I used birchbark to represent the loin cloth.

In keeping with this Northern theme of materials, the arms, legs, head and thorns are secured with pine pitch. Using pitch makes it possible to disassemble the piece so that it could be packed tight for travel as if it might have been carried from mission to mission by an early Jesuit traveling by canoe.

The head is articulated and can be posed. This I was able to do by hammering a musket ball into a rod, thereby connecting the head to the neck with the ability to turn and tilt, capturing subtle variations of light on its features.

The crown of thorns is made from sharpened slivers of moose antler, secured by pitch and set into holes made with a hot iron rod as was common to native construction methods of the period. I chose to exaggerate the size of the crown tines so as to give it a duel symbolism of a halo.

The base is made from 12 pounds of solid copper with a threaded iron rod that fits into a hole in the figure's back; it can also be hung on a wall without the base. I dappled the surface of the copper in keeping with my interest in the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th if Roycroft had prepared this sculpture for exhibit.

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