In 1977, I designed a 3” white bisque shell angel. This was quite a departure from the themes I was pursuing in my sculpture or painting. I had, in fact, just finished a series of white porcelain “Snowscapes.” These “Snowscapes” were visual journals to celebrate my experiences in the winter landscapes of Nebraska. I used large thin slabs of white porcelain with incorporated nylon fibers to give the clay body a fabric-like working quality. I draped these “cloths of porcelain” over forms and added more porcelain textures and shapes creating images of snow-covered furrows, hills, haystacks, hay bails, and fence rows to celebrate exquisite landscapes after a fresh snowfall.
I can still vividly remember being surrounded with dazzling light as I drove down a country road in the morning when the snowfall was pristine and untouched by the presence of man. The low angle of the morning sun made the snow sparkle and dance with white light and the long shadows defined the snow-softened forms. Everything was clean and soft and still. It was as if God had opened up heaven so that for a moment one could touch eternity. After firing these sheets of porcelain, I would arrange the largely unglazed forms, truly frozen in time, on tall bases of clear Plexiglas.
In addition to these landscape pieces, I was also working on a commission using shells as subject matter for a set of dishes. The casts of the shells were strewn all over the table in my studio and I began pressing porcelain into these beautiful forms. I was completely charmed by these vestiges of the homes of sea creatures now long gone. Their surfaces were embellished with rhythmic patterns that seemed to echo the movement of the sea. The white porcelain forms I pressed were exact three-dimensional impressions, only the beautiful colors were lost., To my great delight, the magical effect of the moist porcelain revealed the exquisitely chiseled surface undulations without the distractions of color or pattern, like a fresh snowfall on a landscape. These images took on a simple sculptural beauty that I found irresistibly elegant. I knew I had found a visual vocabulary that I could call my own in shells and sea images striped down to pure form in white unglazed porcelain.
My next project was the designing and making of a series of shell angels. This was not a logical or characteristic move for me. First of all, angels in 1977 were not considered legitimate subject matter for an “artist,” but rather for little old ladies to crochet. Second, angels were also not popular in the commercial marketplace. And in addition to this, unglazed porcelain was not even found in the US marketplace. This was a medium of simplicity and understatement reserved almost solely for sculptors.
In the late 70’s, most everything in the American marketplace was bright and colorful; or at the least covered with a shinny glaze or trimmed in gold. Despite the commercial odds against me and the real possibility of strong disapproval from my artistic peers, I pursued my vision of handmade, unglazed porcelain shell angels. I had confidence in the American consumer that many, like me, were looking for iconic images of simple sculptural beauty to decorate their Christmas trees and display in their homes year round. I really didn’t feel very brave about it, I just felt right about it.
I had wanted to start a business because I needed to earn a living. After a year on an artist’s salary, preceded by eight years of life as a student, I was ready to change my lifestyle and stabilize my income. In addition to this and of much greater impact and importance, I had most recently met Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I wanted to make the focus and products of my business such that I would honor God with the work of my hands and bless those who purchased my work.
So with this business plan in mind and a commitment to excellence and good value for my customers, I sat down in my studio to design a “shell angel” and in just a few hours completed the design of my first angel, “The Trumpeter.” Truly this design was a gift to me.
In an interview several years later, when asked what each of my angels would say if they could talk, my answer was and continues to be, “Hark the Herald Angels sing, GLORY TO THE NEWBORN KING.”