Architectural sculpture in the United States

Architectural sculpture in the United States

Architectural sculpture is a general categorization used to describe items used for the decoration of buildings and structure. The term encompasses both sculpture that is attached to a building and free-standing pieces that are a part of the architects design.

Development in the United States

In the United States this form of embellishment was typically employed during the pre-WWII era, when these were in wide use. It can include statues, keystones, gargoyles, pediments, caryatids and atlantes, figures or designs on spandrels and tympana, cornices, brackets, columns and capitals, frieze panels and decorative bricks. These can be either functional or purely decorative, although in most cases due to their placement on facades of older buildings these ornaments were structural in nature.

Architectural sculptures were made from a variety of materials which includes carved stone such as brownstone, terra cotta, cast iron, machine pressed sheet zinc, concrete and other materials. Terra cotta formed in plaster molds started to become the most popular material used in US cities in the 1870s. Some one hundred companies were producing terra cotta architectural ornaments by 1900.

Many of the sculptures features Greek and Roman mythological figures and designs depicting a variety of gods, monsters and other fantasy creatures. There was also extensive use of leaves, flowers, vines, most of which had symbolic meanings associated with them.

The sculptures differ from common garden statues by virtue of their original intent as well as designs which were meant to be embedded into a masonry wall.

The production of architectural sculpture in terra cotta

Before the 1870s in the United States, architectural decoration was fairly sparse and largely consisted of wood or hand carved stone, this was both time consuming and expensive. Experiments with terra cotta for this use were done in the 1850s, noted architects Richard Upjohn and James Renwick made the earliest use of the new material. At first there were technical difficulties and failures due to underfiring, as well as fierce resistance from stone cutters fearing loss of their livelyhood.By the 1870s terra cotta was fast becoming the material of choice, it was far easier to make, allowed for unlimited designs and could be made rapidly and inexpensively.

The Chicago Terra Cotta Company, Midland Terra Cotta Company, N. Y. Architectural Terra Cotta Co., (Brooklyn 1886), Boston Terra Cotta Company (1880), Boston Valley Terra Cotta Company (NY 1889), Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, Gladding-McBean and many others began production of models, molds and finished ware for architects nation-wide.The process started with the architect's sketches and drawings, sculptors created original models in the factory, usually of clay and sized larger than the final product to allow for shrinkage. The architects approved the models or suggested changes be made to them. Once the model was approved, plaster piece molds were made of the clay models. At this point, in order to create many identical multiples, additional molds were made of the model or of the first plaster piece mold.

Properly made clay with grog was then hand thrown and pressed into these plaster molds. Removed some time later from the mold, and then finished by hand to remove defects and add more details. Internal webbing and hand-holds were also added by hand, the model number and other identity numbers according to the blueprints were inscribed in the clay to guide the masons installation of the pieces.

Various glazes and colors could also be applied to the visible surfaces if desired.Once dry, the clay pressings were fired in very large wood-fired and later- gas fired kilns usually over a three week period of time to a very high stoneware temperature.

Notable American architectural sculptors

*Karl Bitter
*Caspar Buberl
*Rene Paul Chambellan
*Ulric Ellerhusen
*Marshall Fredericks
*Daniel Chester French
*C. Paul Jennewein
*Lee Lawrie
*Carl Milles
*Corrado Parducci
*J. Massey Rhind
*Ulysses Ricci
*Edward Wagner
*Adolph Alexander Weinman

External links

* [ Stromberg] architectural sculpture company and architectural sculpture gallery of terra cotta, GFRC and fiberglass sculpture.
* [ Gladding Mcbean] architectural sculpture Company
* [ Photo gallery] of salvaged 19th century architectural sculptures and modern replicas.
* [ Architectural stone carving] Many pictures of carved stonework.
* [ Architectural stone carving] Pictures and resources.
* [ Friends of terra cotta] Non profit preservation group and database.
* [ Brooklyn NY buildings] Many with a variety of architectural sculptures.
* [ TerraGlas Terra Cotta] architectural terracotta sculpture company
* [ Online survey of figural-architectural sculpture 1890-1935, with many photos]
*Architectural sculpture in America guide book project []

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