Sommerberg art
The 'Auerhahn sculpture 150 limited edition' (English 'Capercaille')
For whatever reason I decided 3 years ago to make an Auerhahn. The Auerhahn is a rare (endangered species) turkey-like bird found mainly in the Black Forest and Scotland. The first sculpture I made was papermache and still ornaments my hallway keeping wicked spirits at bay I suspect. This was followed by a clay version which unfortunately was a bit of a disaster after being glazed and fired. The clay Auerhahn did fulfill its purpose so my next attempt was an ambitious concrete version which was over 1 meter wide. This ran into problems for two reasons. 1) I was collecting sand from the forest for the concrete mix and had to wait for it to dry out. It rained frequently that year slowing the whole process down. 2) The fantail which was a separate piece took up half my lounge floor and eventually became too heavy for me to pick up. After much work I abandoned the project as I had problems with the mix as well and it was clear that the hollow concrete structure would never be strong enough.... and so to Auerhahn 150. This project is a limited edition ceramic sculpture. The ceramic sculpture is roughly life-size and will fit neatly inside a 1 meter cube. Only 150 examples will be made and each will be unique. The mould will be destroyed once the last one has been cast. Each Auerhahn will be made individually so if required All requests for special finishes or details will be considered.A garden version is also being considered which would be cast in concrete and capable of housing a fountain. How this project develops remains to be seen as I have no fixed ideas. I have also considered casting the sculpture in chocolate, foam, ice, plaster, resin to name just a few of other possible materials. Ultimately I see it as a long term art project which will develop in its own way and may extent over many years.
Auerhahn construction
 Auerhahn 150 project started in December 2009 when I began considering how to make such a sculpture and construct an armature. I knew I wanted to model the sculpture in design clay which is a wax like material used in the design industry. Design clay is expensive so to avoid using too much I built the armature close to the final form. I used blue polystyrene foam glued to a wooden skeleton which left about 20mm space for the clay.
The armature was no work of art and was complex for two reasons. 1) The thin legs of the Auerhahn had to carry all the weight of the armature plus 20kg of clay. 2) The fantail needed an armature too as the clay alone would not have been strong enough to withstand later mould-making in plaster. However it also had to be thin enough to allow me some freedom to model. I used 15mm MDF shaped roughly into the fantail form.
The clay was heated in a microwave oven which worked fine although I am sure purists would frown at such an unconventional method. A 1kg block of clay on a low setting took 15-20 minutes to reach a workable softness. The soft clay was then applied to the armature until it was completely covered. This took several days and used 15kg of clay.
The Auerhahn quickly took shape. The wings had to be made separately as otherwise the moulds for casting would have been too complex. The wings cast separately would be glued or screwed to the final sculpture. The model was kept simple for several reasons. I did not want the body mould to be more than 5 pieces so undercuts had to be restricted. I also felt that it allowed greater scope for creative modelling on the cast clay thus ensuring that each sculpture was truly unique.
Once the form was finished 'plaster of paris' was used to make the moulds. Using plaster for the moulds is important as the plaster draws the water out of the casting clay thus creating the shell of the sculpture. It took almost 100kg of plaster to make all the moulds. The wings, which were also modelled in plaster, each required 4-part moulds and the main body a 5-part mould. That is a total of 13 complex forms that had to be made. The body moulds were strengthened with chicken mess and wooden dowls to make them lighter. Ultimately when the casting clay was poured into the mould the whole contraption could weigh up to 150kg and would also have to be rotated 180 degrees by hand to expel excess liquid clay. So for this reason alone lightness was important. Any heavier I might have had to hire a JCB to move it!
By mid march most of the moulds were complete and the original clay model had survived mostly intact. The first test casting could now take place before the end of March. It would be a critical moment and depending on the results determine how the project moved on to the next phase. All being well the first test ceramic Auerhahn could be ready in April and Auerhahn 150/1 could be ready in May 2010.Watch this space!
Assembled mould
The day after the disaster. On the 170410 the project came to an abrupt end
first test casts
The head, neck, feet and wings will be used for design experimentation in future. For the moment I think it is back to the drawing board. Sculpting in plaster has so far produced the most rewarding results and at a cost that is affordable. It just remains to find a way of treating plaster to make it more weatherproof. I shall be working on that over the next weeks. So to sum up. Clay is defineately not the ideal medium when several components have to fit together or when making large complex pieces. Clay works are prone to cracking, collapsing, tearing and even exploding when fired. The final outcome can never be accurately predicted as even the colour and glaze can be affected by small amounts of impurities in the materials. This can sometimes produce exciting finishes but more often than not it is disappointing. Especially so when great care has gone into creating a certain finish.

Ceramic Auerhahn

Almost complete ceramic Auerhahn

Plaster Auerhahn

The final plaster model


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