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.