The items displayed on this website were produced by Deanna at various times, mostly from the 1980s onwards. They are a fair representation of her mature portfolio, but she actually began sculpting Prairie Scenes back in the seventies. An example of one of her early pieces is shown below. Although her early sculptures had their own attractions, they were relatively primitive compared to what was to come, as can be seen throughout these pages.
Deanna used our dining room as her studio, and its table was her workbench. The varnish at the centre of the table is worn away from heavy boards scraping against its surface, and it's been savaged by with forty years of unintended chisel gouges. It long ago became ’The Illustrated Table’, tattooed with drips and splatters of the acrylic paint that it ingested over the years. When needed for a special dinner (one such as only she could make), a fine sheet of white Irish linen would descend on it, followed by her much-loved Irish grandmother's tablecloth, and thus the table's rough history would vanish until the table was needed to fulfil its true destiny the next morning. Magic was performed at that table.
After a subject had been chosen for a new ’Prairie Scene’ type of sculpture, she would select a suitable old board for it from the large store we'd collected over the years, and her helper would prepare the board for her use. The boards were prepared by cleaning and sanding them in such a way as to produce a horizon with sky above and prairie below. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes less so. I mean sometimes the difference between sky and earth was a little subdued, in which case the sculpture itself provided the necessary orientation.
If the sculpture was large or complicated she would draw sketches of it on paper and mark up the board in the way she planned to lay the thing out. She used wet clay for the main components of the sculpture, usually buildings. When it was allowed to dry, this clay became very hard-almost as hard as concrete, although with different characteristics. It could be cut and shaped with sharp tools and fine edges (such as occur with roof overhangs) could be extracted from it.
For the large pieces-buildings and so on-she’d throw an appropriately-sized lump of this clay onto the wood and, using her hands and various small tools, she'd mould it into a semblance of the object she had in mind. Between sessions she'd cover the work with plastic to keep the clay damp until the initial phase of work was done to her satisfaction. This could take days, or longer, depending on the size of the item. On the other hand, she could do the rough sculpture of small owls and mammals very quickly. This part of the sculpting process-for her the easiest and quickest-could be called the wet phase. While one sculpture (still in the ’roughed out’ condition) was drying, she'd start work on the next one.
Once a rough sculpture and its components were thoroughly dry, she'd start on the next phase of work. The pieces would now be very hard, and she would employ a variety of small hand tools (including dental picks and scrapers) to carve and chip away at the roughed-out buildings and other things until their fine details emerged from them. This was the most protracted and arduous part of the process, much of it done while looking through an overhanging illuminated magnifier.
After the detailed sculpting process was finished for a work, she would prime the items involved-buildings, trees and whatnots-then she'd paint them with acrylic paint using fine artist's brushes. When the painting was finished and dry, she would bond the items to their board using a mixture of clay and a generous amount of Weldbond glue. For large sculptures, getting everything organized and exactly situated and fully bonded onto large and heavy fir boards was no easy trick. She was not a large woman, but she had the strength and tenacity of a wrestler. Accomplishing this phase properly was an important part of her vast skill set.
After bonding the pieces would be permitted to rest for a while. Sometimes, with the larger pieces, there might be a slight withdrawal due to shrinkage between the outer edge of the clay structure and the board surface. These small cavities would be filled with the same mix of glue and clay. The paint would then be touched up as required, and any minor improvements she thought of would be carried out. She strove for perfection, as does any worthy artist.
After five coats of varnish had been carefully applied to the sculpture and its wood backing, the hooks and wire for hanging it up were attached. When she'd signed and dated the sculpture, it was finished. Deanna would then go down to the basement and make a protective case for it out of heavy cardboard. It was then ready to be marketed or hung on a family wall.
All of Deanna's artworks were formed from basic materials, namely clay, paint, wire and wood. She only used the wire to buttress certain fragile things, such as pump handles, fences, etc.
Most of the wood used as a platform for the sculptures came from a hundred-year-old barn which I helped to take down (more scars) in order to take a goodly quantity of its boards home. Ancient fir fencing planks provided another source for the wide boards she needed. Interesting fragments from trees and long-submerged docks have provided perches and placements for several generations of her owls. We discovered a local source of Manzanita root, which is so hard that it requires a special saw blade to cut it. It provided the perfect perch for many of Deanna's little mammals and for some of her painted clay flowers.
The feathered edges of Deanna's buildings and all the tiny items, such as yard pumps and swinging signs, must be treated with care and protected against assault from hammers, briefcases and small children-as is the case with porcelain statutory or anything else that's both beautiful and vulnerable.
As always, common sense applies. Actually it applies less in artistic matters, but you know what I mean. Keep the box your sculpture came in, and always make sure that if it's not on your wall, it's in the box. Then it will be as safe as Michelangelo's Pieta is now and it will last forever.
This unique type of folk art developed by Deanna was new in the world, so it was only with the passage of time, coupled with some experimentation, that she was able to asses its stability and durability. Now, after more than thirty-five years experience, it has shown itself to be stable and durable. There was one case early on where a clay sculpture separated from its wood backing. This was attributed to the fact that she had used new oak wood for it and the glue didn't properly penetrate the pores in the wood. A solution for the problem was worked out, but after the incident she stuck to using old wood which was the most attractive backing for the types of scenes she liked to depict. It has always been problem-free.
A true testament to the toughness of the sculptures is the fact that during her year-long traveling exhibition, during which about thirty large pieces of her artwork traveled by truck for thousands of miles with displays in several venues across four provinces and territories, only minor damage was sustained. Moreover, most of it was caused by stupid people testing the strength of little things like pump handles. We also discovered that when traveling on gravelled roads, butterflies stationed at the ends of long rods inside bell jars like to sway about and hit walls of their enclosures. But even in this case the damage was very minor.
Notwithstanding all of this, any artworks configured from clay, whether fired or unfired, can be damaged by neglect, carelessness or evil intentions. The fact that pottery shards from objects both practical and ornamental are scattered through the layers of earth wherever humans have lived across the centuries amply testifies to this simple fact.
As mentioned before, Deanna signed and dated all of her pieces, from the largest scene down to the smallest flower. But who knows, she might have missed one somewhere along the line. She was only 99.9% perfect.