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Denali

Denali is by far, my most favorite sculpture I've ever made. She's one of those pieces, no matter where I place her, she always looks wonderful to me. What I've noticed is she takes on the light and mood of the room, and most definitely looks great with the setting sun beaming across her face. I'd never be able to replicate her, except in bronze.

Denali in the setting sun.

The real-life Denali is a gray wolf at the Austin Zoo. She's among a pack of six females and is the alpha. Her fur is white, just like the rest of her pack, as it can be with gray wolves, rescued and given rehabilitation at her present habitat and home at the Austin Zoo.

One early morning at the zoo, after taking reference photos of the bears for a sculpture, I walked over to the wolf habitat and ended up hanging out with them and taking a multitude of photos. It was then that I met Denali for the first time as she stared me down. When I got home and developed the photos, I realized I had some pretty cool action pics of the wolves, especially Denali.

Denali on the prowl


Denali on the prowl. This is the main photo I used for her sculpture.





Denali began as a 1/3 life-size sculpture, modeling the "prowl" as the main gesture, movement, and design. My goal was to have a standing ceramic piece and 1/3 size that would just barely fit in my kiln. But, as the process went by and clay was added, my proportions began to grow and she wasn't gonna fit in the kiln unless I came back and changed her, which I didn't really want to do, mainly because I captured her facial expression and didn't want to lose it. I had to make a decision, either leave her out of proportion, which would have bothered me forever, or alter her. I ended up cutting her apart and saved her front, and recycled the rest. I love doing portraits, and Denali's is no different. I wanted to keep her movement and gesture and her prowl and decided to try and leave her left front leg in the lifted and frozen afore/after stride conveying the hunt. The expression of her unbroken gaze and her pointed and alert ears were all a part of the sculpture. I wanted to capture the characteristics and instincts of an alpha protector and predator. That was the thought process before I knew how to finish and present her.


Once I had cut her apart, I hollowed her out so that she would be ready for the bisque fire. At this point, I had envisioned her floating in mid-stride, on top of an acrylic post, about the same height as if she had her other legs below her. I wanted her to be on the move or in mid-prowl, just as the photo above conveys, the look I received as she protected her pack. I didn't spend a lot of time on her details, and instead left her in the movement and prowl, a vision between the spiritual world and our own.


Denali loaded in the kiln prior to bisque fire

After the bisque fire, she was safe enough to handle the rest of the finishing process. I knew she had to be white, and I began with a base of red iron oxide wash applied to her whole surface. What I love about iron oxide is that it's made from iron, the product of the earth that is within all living creatures. It's like adding a bit of life to the sculpture as well as, a connection to all beings. Once fired, the wash becomes a permanent form of the sculpture or ceramic piece, a dark earthy red reminiscent of the red clays I grew to know as a child.


Iron Oxide Wash applied to the surface of Denali, on left, and other pieces prior to underglazing.

I then let the iron wash dry and washed off areas with a sponge, revealing the natural clay. Once I had a dry surface, I applied the white underglaze with a dry brush method, to the surface, leaving crevices and texture and other sections of the sculpture alone. This is what gives the sculpture more depth and feeling and movement. The eyes, nose, inside her cavity, under her paw, etc. were left without the white underglaze. The only other application I used was to put a clear glaze on her nose, just because canines have wet noses. In essence, I'm trying to capture the colors of her fur and the recognizable characteristics of a wolf as she moves stealthily toward her prey.


White Underglaze was applied to Denali's surface. She already looks pretty cool.

After everything had dried for a bit, I put her in the kiln one last time for a final firing which changes the makeup of the underglazes and wash and clear glaze to permanently form a ceramic state, changing the colors, adhering to the clay. I had already propped her on the acrylic post and rough-hewn base after her bisque fire and knew this was the way she was going to be presented. It was a perfect way to view her.


Denali has become my most favorite sculpture over the years. There's not a bad place in the house or at a show, that I have placed her. She always demands attention and she creates a story and presence that lasts forever. She's an artistic piece as well, where creativity and mistakes were embraced to form a design like no other I've created. I do get a lot of engagements, encouragement, and inspirational words when she's displayed, but I have also realized whoever has the heart to make her their own, is someone who thinks similar to me. Easy peasy, lol. Y'all have a great week and hope to see you soon! Much love.


Matt









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