Althea B. McLaren created the “McLaren Studio Academy” in the early Seventies. Her curriculum encompassed technique of painting and sculpture, teaching from her home studio in Fullerton, California. Lessons were both private and small classes; encouraging beginners and refining professionals alike. Her “heroes” were Michael Angelo and Leonardo de Vinci for both their technique and drive towards perfection in every thing they did.
I had the great honor to study with her over a couple decades: focusing on sculpture and harnessing Terra Cotta as my primary medium. Once she estimated my ability as sufficient, Althea suggested I make a “master piece”: a project that would demonstrate an understanding of the medium, how it dries at different speeds and how to prevent cracking; the sense of proportions of the human frame. She also encouraged me to illustrate my understanding of religious art: where one should reveal muscles and why in certain cases it is better to render shape in alternate ways.
I chose the classic statue of Shiva. In this terra cotta project, I translated the Hindu God into my own interpretation. The Face is classically human in a meditative state, the hands are very human. The arms in contrast have the shape of serpents: boneless (gods don’t have bones!) The Flames are staggered around developing the corona, the serpents manifest out of the head, all the while standing in a dance position on the back of a gnome of ignorance. One hand holing the flame of Transmutation, one holding a lotus of Enlightenment, one playing the drum of Time, one hand Bestowing Boons (pointing down) and the final hand held up in the sign of “Fear Not”. The configuration below is a lotus that is actually an incense burner, fully functional. When lit the smoke rises through out the statue it encircles the statue with the ever changing shape of serpents.
The terra cotta piece has a maze of thick and thin elements; each had to be wrapped and continually sprayed with water to prevent it from drying too quickly, a process that took weeks to set before a cone 5 firing. All of this was finally mounted on a teak.
With all of my work, the first thing I thought of after completion was “What next?”
The very next step was founding “Amulets by Merlin”, scaling my sculpture from “gallery size” pieces in clay to smaller pieces in silver, bronze and gold. I still work on larger pieces from time to time, but I will always rely on the foundation of work I gleaned from one of the great masters of the 20th century.