/ Essays / 2006 / No.9: Visit to a studio

Friederun Hardt-FriederichsEssay No.9January, 02 2006

Visit to a studio

Female sculpture Suzanne Peiffer is showing us her reading girls.

Suzanne Peiffer in her studio
Figure 1:
Suzanne Peiffer in her studio (February 2005)
Visiting the art show "Vision 2003" of the Strawbridge Art League, Melbourne, Florida, in 2003 I discovered a small bronze of a little girl reading, entitled "Little Gardener" (figure 2). The little girl is barefoot, sitting comfortably on a bed of leaves and seems to be totally absorbed in reading a large book which lays on her lap. It’s the kind of pop-up book children love. When turning the pages the most fancy figures and constructions spring up. In this case the little girl finds a huge hibiscus flower popping up which attracts the little reader. As the little girl is dressed in light clothes and without shoes the sculpture indicates the summer season or in this case because of the hibiscus flower it symbolizes the "Sunshine State" Florida.
Fascinated by the bronze I was eager to meet the artist who had won the sculpture Award of the named show for this artwork. It was Suzanne Peiffer.
From her I learned she had made another bronze which would be exhibited in a gallery in Melbourne. I went there as soon as possible to find another delicately worked bronze sculpture, titled "Best Seller" (figure 3).
The sculptured woman is reclining, dressed in a negligee as though still in bed, one leg tucked under her other, intensively reading a book. Apparently as the title suggests the book was a best seller which has kept the young woman from getting up and becoming properly dressed for the day. The careless pose with the night gown showing bare legs and a naked shoulder as well as a barely covered breast takes the viewer into the calm and seclusion of a reader not paying any attention to the rest of the world. The bronze is lightly colored with a reddish touch like the "Little Gardener" too.
Little Gardener
Figure 2:
Little Gardener
Bronze, 2003, 10" diameter x 9"high
I decided to make a step forward and asked Suzanne Peiffer to give me an interview about her artwork, which took place in February 2005 at her studio in Palm Bay, Florida.
Showing me her studio (figure 1)I noticed another sculpture not yet finished and still untitled. I took a photo (figure 4) of this clay version of the future bronze and the artist described for me as well as for you reading this essay the slow and carefully carried out process of making a bronze sculpture. She demonstrated the inner skeleton made of strong and fine wire as the first step in creating her figure.
Here we follow her own words :

The process:

I first make a "skeleton" out of aluminum wire which I bend into the desired "pose" or position of the envisioned sculpture. I build up the
figure with a non-drying wax-based clay, building, cutting and incising until the fine detailing is finished. Second - I make a mold by brushing on several layers of silicone rubber, allowing it to dry between applications, until the rubber is about 1/4" thick. With the original clay still inside, I apply plaster directly onto the dry rubber until I've reached a 1/2" thickness. This is called the "mother mold", which is necessary to hold the rubber firmly when a casting substance is poured into it.
After the mother mold dries, I remove it (usually in two pieces), and remove it from the rubber mold. The rubber mold is then sliced in one or two places to remove it from the clay. I then clean the rubber mold and replace it into the mother mold, discarding the clay. The two molds are now hollow, into which I pour liquid wax repeatedly pouring it out and filling again. When the wax is about 1/4" thick, I pour the remainder out and let it cool.

Both molds are carefully removed from the wax, and the surface of the wax is cleaned, removing any bubbles that may have formed. To this wax (which is exactly like the original clay) I affix the "plumbing", which is a system of wax sprues and gates, much like the human circulatory system.

The sprue allows the molten bronze to be poured into the cavity, the gates allow the bronze to circulate into all the crevasses and the gases to escape. Everything that was wax is now bronze.

When cooled, the wax is repeatedly dipped into a ceramic slurry many times, drying between dippings. When the ceramic "shell" is thick enough, it is allowed to dry and it is put into a burn-out kiln where it reaches a temperature high enough to melt out the wax - hence.
The Lost Wax Technique. After that cools, the ceramic shell is broken off the bronze. The gate and sprues are cut off. The bronze at this stage is black and crusty. This "crust" is then chipped off and polished to a smooth finish. At this stage, the piece looks like shiny brass or gold. Now the patina (color) is applied. This is done by heating the bronze and brushing on various chemicals, depending on the desired finish.

Therefore the basics to remember are:

Aluminum skeleton
Clay build-up until sculpture is "finished"
Silicone rubber mold
Mother mold of plaster
Wax poured into molds
Wax gated and sprued
Wax dipped into ceramic slurry, creating a thin shell
Shell chipped off
Bronze chiseled and polished
Bronze colored

Well, having learned more about the procedure of making art in bronze I became curious about how Suzanne Peiffer finds her ideas as these have to turn up before the process, and once done her art work can not be altered as a painting can be changed later on. The artist was asked "what inspires you?" and gives a clear and definite answer :" By observing people". Sometimes daydreaming, listening to jazz she gets an idea in her head which could have been inspired by earlier observation of behavior or pose of people. Her sculpture "Best Seller" was therefore inspired by a dear houseguest whom she had found always absorbed in reading, one leg tucked under her. This pose became the initial idea and appealed so much to her so that she had to take up that subject.
Best Seller
Figure 3:
Best Seller
Bronze, 2000, 11" x 9" x 9"high
Naturally Suzanne Peiffer works commissioned artwork like portraits. Also the "Little Gardener" was a commission. A library ordered it for the children’s wing. It was the first time that the artist made a sculpture of a child and as she says "no model was at hand".
Nearly all her sculptures feature women. As Suzanne Peiffer confess and describes herself as an avid reader it comes quite natural to her depicting reading girls. She adds the remark "most of my artwork in sculpture is showing female figures". I promptly asked her why she takes as a subject mostly women and not men too, the clear answer given was :"It does not interest me. I am a woman and I know the female body better. I have a living model in myself".

This leads to question about her art education. Suzanne Peiffer was born in 1935 in Pennsylvania, having had a wonderful childhood in a caring family and spoiled by a Pennsylvanian Dutch grandma with home-made pies, sauerkraut ... she tells me enthusiastically . There can not be found a special history of a talent in art around her family the artist remembers, but all family members could be described as having a good art relationship. As many kids she loved painting but not before she met a gifted teacher of art at school that she became aware of her talent and felt somewhat sure she would go for art study.

Here a little story she tells which characterize her time. At the age of about 13 she attended art classes in figure drawing given by a ambitious teacher. He explained that not knowing the structure of the body with its bones and muscles there would be no way of successfully drawing a clothed person. For a demonstration he asked one of the girls in the class to stand in front of the window so that the sun light could shine through her fine blouse allowing the other girls to see the form of her arm. The pupils could learn by how the fabric draped and how to model the arm. Next day the teacher was fired!
Figure 4:
Clay, 2005, 17" x 9" x 6"high
This remarkable event became the initial point of her wanting to study the figure in art as she explains to me. Her teacher had pushed her into an interest in figurative art giving her a book on anatomy before his leave. Dedicating to her this book which he had owned for more than 25 years and which he had gotten himself by his own teacher Suzanne Peiffer kept it through many years of learning at high school and college until it was stolen during her college years. Still she misses it very much.
The artist got a profound education in art at the Moore College of Art, Philadelphia PA and later on she studied with Peter Lipman-Wulff, Guild Hall, East Hampton NY. Finally she became attracted to bronze by doing her own casting while studing at the Bronze Foundry of Stony Brook University, Stonybrook NY. Since then she has created many pieces of art, winning many awards for her sculptures.
Her style lies in a more representative or classic backgkround, although she feels free in her interpretation of this.

In this example of artwork we can see clearly the connection of the reading girl or woman with the book which is really read by them. Also we realize the strong impact of the artist being an avid reader on her artwork. Considering all that she told me I got the feeling that I could find her in any of her female figures being her own model in some way or another.
Could we say she has given us many aspects of herself as a kind of self-portrait?

Reader comments:

Mit Freude auf diese Site gestoßen!!
Heike Sütterlin from Dresden, Deutschland wrote on April, 27 2006: Liebe Reading Woman!
Ich bin Bibliothekarin an der Sächsischen Landesbibliothek in Dresden. Gestern an der Informationstheke hatte ich ein nettes Gespräch bzw. Beratung mit der Buchkünstlerin Friederun Friederichs. Zum Abschied überreichte sie mir eine Postkarte und ihre Visitenkarte. Neugierig geworden, öffnete ich Ihre Internetsite. Ich war begeistert!!! Besonders aber angetan, hatte es mir die Atelier-Vorstellung bei der Künstlerin Suzanne Peiffer. Die Bronze Skulptur "Lesendes Mädchen" strahlt so eine Ruhe aus.
Gern schaue ich wieder im Internet vorbei.
Auf diesem Wege noch einmal viele Grüße an Fr. Friederichs von H. Sütterlin

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