This piece was inspired by the prehistoric giant deer called Megaloceros that lived during the ice age. Also known as the Irish Elk, this deer was around 8 feet tall, and had an impressive 12 foot antler span. It was actually an ancestor of the modern fallow deer which has similar palmate antlers, but is much smaller in body size.
My goal for this piece was to introduce more fantasy into my work. I was researching stories and myths associated with deer that I remembered from my childhood, and came across the myth of the White Hart. Hart is the archaic word for a mature stag. The myth is connected with many different cultures; Celts, English, German, and even Native Americans have stories connected to a magical white deer. However, these deer actually do exist, and not as albinos. They have dark eyes, and the normal coloring on their noses. Scientifically, these deer have developed a rare genetic pattern called Leucism that reduces the natural red/brown pigment in their hair to white. This same condition is found in the rare white lion as well.
A white fallow deer, today’s White Hart.
In many of these cultures they were believed to have a magical ability to evade capture, and represented mankind’s spiritual quest. In Celtic mythology the white hart was a messenger from the spirit world. Mostly recognized for its connection to English mythology, the White Hart was a symbol of the king, and protected for royal hunts. The magic of the stag is that it is not to be killed, but will lead the hunter in the joy of the chase to new adventures in order to capture happiness. In modern times the white stag is a vestige of the pure beauty of nature.
In the rough wet work stage of the sculpture I focus on proportion, gesture, and musculature. I leave off small details like fur texture, ears, and anything thin like the antlers would be. These legs are fairly thin, so I am able to cut them off and leave them solid, but the rest of the body has to be hollowed out and reassembled.
I start with the head, and cut small sections using registration marks to help put things back together. The clay has to be very stiff to hold its shape during this part of the process, so I let the thickest parts dry out longer and cover the smaller areas.
All the clay inside is first gauged out with loop tools, and then I smooth and compress the walls of the piece with a butter knife. Once the whole piece is hollow, the sections can be reassembled using clay slip to attach them.
Keeping most of the piece covered, I was able to sculpt the antlers in place from slabs. I always use the real thing as a reference for texture when I can. The bricks and clay lumps helped hold up the antlers while I cut in the prongs and shaped them. Once the clay was stiff and leather hard, I cut the antlers back off the head and fired them separately, leaving a hole for the peg of the antler to go back into later.
The furniture parts were made from hand carved originals that were cast in plaster and press molded to have identical multiples. The cushion was built with a large slab draped over polyfill and manipulated from underneath. The slab built edge around the cushion was added after I conformed it to body of the bisque ware deer.
The weight of the deer on the soft slab supported by polyfill made an impression for the body to rest in without collapsing it.
I decided on the surfaces and color palette for glazing through multiple quick watercolors like this one.
The finished piece. Materials include ceramic, low fire and mid-range glazes, gold leaf, flocking, wax encaustic, scenery building materials, and 3-D printed miniature buildings. The antlers and furniture parts were glued in place after the final glaze firing. I use apoxie sculpt and paint to hide these post-fire attachments.
Clear glaze was used on the eyes and nose to make them seem more alive. The glaze used for the fur was Laguna Snowflake (a commercial glaze that I fired to cone 5 with a slow cooling program to produce micro-crystals).
Here is a detail of the 3-D printed buildings in the antlers. These were made using open source files on Thingiverse. I used the library 3-D printing facilities at UF to print them to this miniature scale. Next I applied the same grass flock and moss effects used in the scenery and paint to make them look older. The trees and grass are generally used for train set builders to create scenery. The materials were easy to use and manipulate. I found that they create a surprisingly realistic effect for miniature scenery.
The element of the ancient ruins in this piece were inspired by the series Course of Empire by Thomas Cole. In these works, Cole sought to reveal the stages of human civilization, and the constant repetition of history. The poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Byron is quoted by Cole as an inspiration for this series:
There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…
This poem was inspiring to me as well. I am interested in theories of mass extinction, and the objects and structures that would remain as fossil evidence of our civilizations. The ruins in the deer’s antlers are icons of civilization, and its remains: the temple, the dome, the fountain, and the obelisk. The piece of furniture I made for this piece is an homage to the craftsmen of the past, and the beautiful objects that remain. Part of the importance of using clay to make the furniture was to emphasize the value of virtuosity and skill craft.
This piece was a real turning point for me in graduate school so far. The White Hart contains the fantasy, mythos, and narrative that I am striving for in my new work. I enjoyed implementing the influences from working with my dad restoring antique French furniture, and my love for the Rococo style. This piece also embodies the ideas of Romanticism in the emphasis on the passage of time, and the strength and beauty of nature.