Friday, March 5, 2010

Creature Comfort

Slee rises from the melting snow in the flower bed alongside our backyard shed. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Most kids fear they have monsters living in their closets or under their beds. I have one living in the backyard outside my bedroom window… literally.

He’s been there so long now, I sort of take him for granted, but he still freaks out the neighbor kids when they come over to play.

I created my monster 23-years ago in a dusty, ceramic studio on the ground floor of Siegfried Hall at Ohio University. Like most of my ceramic projects, he wasn’t meant to be a monster at all; he just sort of turned out that way.

You see I wasn’t exactly Rodin when it came to clay (unless Rodin was a demolitions expert) because it didn’t matter if my piece was hand built or thrown on a wheel, somehow I always managed to turn something as simple as an ash tray or a candy dish into a lethal piece of C4. In fact, I was so adept at accidentally trapping air pockets into clay that none of my fellow students dared fire any of their pieces with mine for fear their precious vases, bowls, or flower pots would end up as nothing more than mosaic fragments scattered about the floor of the kiln.

Amazingly, despite my aptitude for destruction, a few of my projects somehow managed to come out of the kiln in one piece. Oddly enough, these pieces usually weighed in around 35 pounds. Once I discovered my “extremely large” ceramics projects had a much higher survival rate, it led to a whole string of massive works. My gigantic creations in clay sure seemed like a good idea at the time, but it kind of backfired once I realized I actually had to take them home at the end of the quarter.

Thus began a slow migration of my incredibly heavy masterpieces, one carload at a time, from my rented house at Ohio University, to the front porch of my parent’s home four hours away. It took the better part of the school year to finally heave the entire haul, all 1,500 pounds of it, safely north and out of my sight. 

For whatever reason, my mother didn’t seem to mind, and once she recovered from her hernia after moving the stuff into is new home, she actually grew fond of my work - especially the monster figure that started out as a bust of myself before morphing into more of a Sleestak-like creature from Land of the Lost, due to my lack of ability.

It actually did look like me at first, but because I used such a large volume of clay, once I got past the shoulders and up to the head, things went a bit awry. The weight of the wet clay made the skull begin to sink inward, prompting me to try and stabilize it with modern technological advances like wads of crumpled up paper towels, hair dryers and props made from broken broomsticks.

But it was no use. By the time my clay had become leather-hard, the head of my bust was so misshapen it looked more like the Elephant Man than it did me, so I did the only thing I could think of – I added a forked tongue and some fangs, and then I slapped on some green glaze and turned it into a monster. The only thing left was to fire it in the kiln, which sounds easy enough, but if you think my finished projects were heavy, double the weight for the unfinished ones.

My instructor wasn’t sure if my “slightly larger than life” monster/bust could even be lifted, let alone fit in the kiln, but with the help of the entire class, we carefully extricated the beast from its three-week home on the worktable, slowly loaded it onto a Radio-Flyer wagon, and then rolled it toward the kiln.

To be safe, they shut down Siegfried Hall for the day in case things went horribly wrong during the firing process, and after we crammed my monster bust into the kiln, I hopped on my bike and rode as fast as I could to my house on Mound Street a mile and a half away, where I sat on my front porch and watched for mushroom clouds to appear on the horizon.

A day later, we all returned to find that not only was Siegfried Hall still standing, but the kiln had miraculously held as well. Slowly, we peeled opened the kiln door and found a brilliant, green monster greeting us with a forked-tongue smile. It was far cooler than I ever could have expected.

In the years that followed, Slee (as we took to calling him) became a cult hero in my hometown, especially during Halloween when my mother would put glowsticks inside his eye sockets, making him even more eerie.

Then one day, apparently when my parents realized the weight of my works had begun to damage the foundation of their porch, my mother told me I should take Slee back to Michigan and give him a new home.

My wife wasn't as enamored by my artistic talent as my mother. She wanted nothing to do with poor old Slee, but I couldn’t just throw him away. Because my wife feels sorry for my taste, she compromised and let me put him up against our backyard shed were he now acts as a scarecrow, a snow gauge and a comforting site whenever I gaze out our bedroom window.

Unfortunately, the last few years haven't been too kind to Slee. His forked tongue and one of his fangs were busted off by a wayward baseball last summer, and his incredible density has sunk him several inches into the earth. But he’s still my favorite work of art and I always smile when I picture the face of the archaeologist who unearths him from the flower bed next to our shed 1,000 years from now.






1 comment:

  1. Very Picasso!!! Your mother sounds like she REALLY loved you!!! LOL!!!