Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the Collaborative Process - St. John's Seminary

One of the difficulties of trying to look at Parducci's sculptural output is the sheer volume of it. To illustrate this point let's look at just one commission of his.

This example will also allow us to observe the process by which architect and sculptor worked together to produce the final product. In this example we will also look at my view of how the collaborative process involving architect, designer and sculpture seemed to have worked.

In 1954 or 1955 Parducci was hired by Diehl and Diehl, a father and son architectural firm, to create sculpture for St. John's Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. It is my belief that by this time Diehl & Diehl, who had worked with Parducci many time before, informed him that they were working in a modern Romanesque format, and what they were looking for: X number of tympanums, so many capitols, a set or two of Apostle symbols, this many door surrounds, that many feet of curved floral or geometric patterns, all of this topped with a monumental figure of Christ.

At some point I believe that someone in the process, and this person could have been almost anyone in the process, decided to base the main portal on either the one found at the Cathedral in Ferrara, Italy, built during the 12th Century or one very similar to it. What brought this particular doorway to my attention was that the page with a photograph of it was bookmarked in Parducci's copy of Corrado Ricci's "Romanesque Architecture in Italy". Although the doorways at first might not seem to be that similar, the lions crouching under the pillars of the old church are a bit distracting when looking for similarities because they were not included in St. John's. However when the portals are broken down into a series of individual details the points in common begin to emerge. The amount of time Parducci spent with this book in his studio is somewhat reflected by the number of plaster fingerprints that are found on and in it today.

Then CP would get to work, initially in his formidable library and then on his sketch pad. He would first make sketches of his ideas and present them to Gerald and/or George Diehl, or someone else who might be assigned as the designer to the project. After his drawings were approved he might make a maquette, for example, of the Christ figure. This would be reviewed by the appropriate person and following approval, CP would then begin making a clay version of the piece. Since both Parducci and most of the firms that hired him were located in Detroit, it is likely that designers would on occasion stop by his studio to check out the work in progress.

In the Barrie interview he mentions that Albert Kahn would stop by and see him once or twice a week, so it is to be expected that other architects did as well. When the clay version had been okayed, Parducci, or his plaster caster assistant would make a negative mold of the clay piece and then produce a positive version in plaster. Often it would be photographed at this time. Several of these plaster versions have been found in different architect's and client's possessions. A close examination of a particular tympanum at St. John's reveals that it is quite similar to one found in Ravenna, also from the 12th Century. This one was drawn from another of Parducci favorite books, Kowalczyk's "Decorative Sculpture."

After this version of the sculpted detail was approved by the architect the plaster version would be delivered to the stone carver or stone or terra cotta caster who would make the edition that was to appear on the building. Frequently the work would be carved in situ, that is to say carved on (usually) limestone blanks that had been built into the building. Because pieces that were cast in stone or terra cotta could not include much, if any, undercutting, on occasion a carver would do some undercutting on the work, either before or after it was attached to the building.

It is my understanding that this particular doorway has been altered, or at least much of the sculpture has been covered up by a canopy that has been added since my pictures were taken. Looking at some of my pictures I realize that work was already underway at the time and I feel fortunate that I was able to get the pictures that I did.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Corrado Parducci's Stations of the Cross

In the process of preparing my book, "Shadowing Parducci" for publication I am scanning hundreds of prints and slides - the result of the 25 years spent collecting them. Since all the photos used in the publication will be in b/w, that is how I am scanning them. Fortunately my scanner can convert color slides into b/w pixels, so that helps. But here is what just happened.

I was working on Parducci's Stations of the Cross from the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, and as I was scanning them - a fairly slow and laborious process - I was running through what I was going to write about them since there are interesting stories, both about CP's interactions with the notorious Father Coughlin and with his brother Rudolph - that you will have to wait for the book to get - and I was struck by how wonderful the Stations looked, bathed in the light from the church's stained glass windows, and was lamenting that the color would be lost in the book when it occurred to me that the color could be saved on my blog. So here I am. Here we are. Here they are. Some of them are not very crisp, but I made a choice to shoot them without a flash to try and capture how they looked being there.

A couple of the things that captivated me about these works was the amount of detail in the background and the interesting cast of characters the the Parduccis placed around the scene, Pilate, Simon, Caiaphas, the Marys, the Roman soldiers and a bunch more. Check them out for yourselves and enjoy.

For those interested in more on Fr. Coughlin I recommend Donald Warren's book "Radio Priest - Charles Coughlin, The Father of Hate Radio". You won't find Parducci in it, but, hey, you can't have everything.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Corrado Parducci's Zodiacs

It is always interesting, at least for me, to speculate as to who chooses the various themes and symbolic content that is then carved on a building. Sometimes it is a building committee or patron, other times it's the architect and occasionally the sculptor gets to decide. I suppose that mostly it is some combination of (remember this one from Multiple Choice Test Questions), "all of the above."

So here and now we are going to look at several different versions of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac that Parducci produced. As is usually the case, if you wish to know where these can be found, wait for my book, "Shadowing Parducci'' to come out, or just leave something in the comments.

Check out more architectural sculpture here


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Corrado Parducci - Detroit's master architectural sculptor

Corrado Parducci was possibly America's most prolific architectural sculptor, working, by his account, on or in over 600 buildings. I am producing a book, "Shadowing Parducci" that is an attempt to catch on paper what he did in clay, plaster, stone, terra cotta, bronze and wood. While reviewing his work many themes are presenting themselves and I think I'll respond to some of them here.

American art is frequently ambivalent about the place of Native Americans and their treatment in sculpture reflects this feeling. In architectural sculpture the use of both figures of natives and of their decorative elements was fairly widespread, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. Parducci generated quite a few such images, many of them reproduced here.

During the 1950s (?) CP (as he is sometimes called . . ... by me) was commissioned to create a statue of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh to be placed on a rough fieldstone pedestal on Walpole Island, First Nations territory across the Canadian border from Detroit. Funding for the project fell through and all that remains of the project is the pedestal and the maquette that CP produced.

As always, feel free to drop me a comment if you wish more details on these works, or anything else.