Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dancing with Physics

Tango... it's a dance. A fast-paced, precise and unrelenting dance. South American in origin, the genre fuels the intensity of Latin American dance and culture.

Tango... it's a sculpture by Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig, a delightful Spanish stallion strutting his stuff in a balanced, intense yet relaxed pose.

When Tango was introduced into the Marcher Ware line, he was the third horse that Marcher Ware tackled. The first batch of pieces were cast by Mark Farmer of Alchemy Studios, and shipped to Pour Horse for glazing. A few sets of three were made... one for Sarah, one for Mark, and one for me. (You know, like parceling out Halloween candy... ) I honestly don't remember how many were made... three sets? Four? Five? No more than five, but I think that there were fewer than than. In other words, fewer than twenty total pieces. (Maybe someone will be kind and email me with a list, I'm too tired to look in back records...) When Mark headed off to some new, unknown horizon, I was left with one bisque sitting here. Unsure what to do with him, he has been sitting here ever since.

So when it became apparent that Melissa Gaulding needed our help, I immediately thought about the Tango. What better ending for Marcher Ware, what better use for a unique bisque, than to give Mel what she needs? Sarah and I donated the bisque, and I headed off to the barn to paint and glaze him.

His hooves had already been painted and fired, so a cleaning fire (to remove the dust) happened first, to the relatively low temperature of cone 010. (that would be about 1600 degrees... it sure will burn off dirt) Then the first layer of dappling was applied. At this point, the horse is white with colored hooves, and I sprayed a very thin layer of a dark brown underglaze over strategic areas to be dappled. Then a few areas of an underglaze that has more reddish tones, just like the horse that I was basing him on. Dapples were done with a typewriter eraser pencil, and the dust from dappling was removed with either a Q-tip or a soft brush, depending upon the type of dapple and location. He went into a bisque fire for the first layer to set, about 1900 degrees F. Several more layers of dappling were added, augmenting the first layer and enhancing and deepening some of the dapples. Obscuring others, as well. This technique, while very labor intensive, sets the dapples into the color and gives them a softness that can't be beat. Finally, his palomino golden over color. Yes, the palomino is sprayed *over* his already set dappling, totally obscuring it. This is the part that takes nerves and faith. By applying the palomino body color over the top of the dapples, the dapples become a natural looking part of the coat. However, too much color and the dapples disappear! That brings us to the pictures...

Why is he wet? See, on his hoof, the water drop? See the wet drops on the ground? After he was fired, I checked my work by running him quickly under the faucet and looking at how his dapples show through. Not a perfect way, but a simple way, to see how he will look when the glaze brings his colors to life. His eye is unpainted, and none of the details are done yet.

So here is where the story gets interesting. These horses, as all ceramic castings, are hollow. So there is air inside of the casting. We poke a little air hole into the casting when it is drying, so that the air can come out when it heats up in the kiln. When the Tango was pulled out of the bisque firing just before this photo was taken, I had dreamed the previous night that the horse had no air hole. Just a quick dream, nothing interesting... just the fact that he had no air hole. Sure enough, I checked him when the kiln was cool enough to touch him, and THERE WAS NO AIR HOLE. Whoever cleaned the bisque at Alchemy had forgotten to punch him one!

That's a problem.. a big scary problem. When the air inside gets hot, it builds up pressure. With no escape, the pressure is held inside of the horse body. With an earthenware casting, that air will slowly escape through pores in the clay. (Remember, earthenware is porous) It won't (probably) blow up. It won't take glaze well, however. The glaze will form craters and be very unpleasant and bumpy, because the escaping air pushes the softened glaze away from the thousands of little pores where it is escaping.

In a bone china, the clay is not porous. Once it has been fired to maturity, it is impermeable to air or water. So, with no place to escape, the pressure builds.. and builds.. and builds.

He had already been through several bisque firings. Either that was proof that he could hold the pressure, or he did have a tiny hole somewhere that I couldn't see, or he was going to blow up one of these times. What to do? What to do??!!

When I wet him down, I tried to see whether there were any tiny bubbles forming in the water layer. Nope. So I dried him with a blow dryer. One spot... one little spot.. on his rump stayed wet for a little longer than the rest. It was wet from the inside, it was holding water in the body cavity. I couldn't see the hole, but it had to be there. Otherwise there would be no reason for that spot to stay wet. But would it be big enough to mess up the glaze?

I 'candled' him, in case there was still water inside of his body, which would be even more pressurized than air. He fired for an hour at about 500 degrees, then cooled.

His details got painted.. eyes, leg chestnuts, etc... and he was sprayed with glaze. Then, into the fire for a last time, which is about 1800 degrees F. Checked him when the kiln shut off about midnight... I could still see an intact horse silhouette against the glowing orange kiln bricks.

Today, he came out of the fire just fine. No flaws on the glaze, no explosion. His pictures were taken while he was still reassuringly warm.

Now he is up at auction, at My Auction Barn, 100% to Melly. He has more of a story than most pieces do... one of the more unusual journeys that a casting has taken, here at Pour Horse.



ArabsRule said...

That is the most gorgeous color! Fits him so well too. Wish I could be bidding!

Kelly said...

Oh. My. Goodness! What a beautiful creation and what an amazing story! I see the action is already over $1500 and I can so easily see why.
Thank you for sharing this story Joanie, what a special model!

mel said...

This piece is stunning. I am humbled by yours and Sarah's gift. Your help is truly a miracle for Herm and me, and there are not enough words to tell you what your time and effort mean to us. And we particularly love the teaching opportunity you offered—it especially appeals to the teacher in me.