Howdle Studios & Gallery features ceramic art in the form of small cups, humorous cups, and platters with drawings of animals or abstract designs, vases from 3 inches to 4 feet with animal or abstract decoration, planters with animal drawings, small ceramic relief wall sculptures in sizes from 2 to 5 feet. Very large (up to 50 feet) installations are available by commission only. Texture and motion are the unifying themes in all Bruce's work.
Two-dimensional watercolor, colored pencil, graphite and ink drawings primarily of fruits, vegetables and flowers by Janice Johnson are on view as well as prints and cards of the same images.
Bruce is usually present in the gallery or studio and loves to show visitors how his work is made. When he is not present Jan is.
Commissioned murals usually start with preliminary drawings followed by a final rendering with a model showing relief texture and color. After the size and method of installation are worked out clay is ordered and the easel readied.
The 60’ x 11’ easel is adjusted to fit the dimensions of each commission. The easel is covered with burlap and wood strips screwed horizontally every 16 to 20 inches and is sprayed with water so when the clay is applied it will stick to the surface. For larger projects Paoli Clay Co. makes the proper clay formula and delivers it shrink wrapped on flat bed pallets. Quantities up to 9 tons are fork lifted off the truck and dollied to the location in the room where with the help of assistants is applied to the easel which is tilted to a six degree slant. First the clay surface is groomed and readied for sculpting. Bruce can sculpt a ton of clay in around one to five days depending on the extent of detail. A ton generally covers around an 8’ x 10’ area depending on depth. When fired a 8’ x 10’ mural will shrink by 13.6% to 6’9” x 8’9”. When sculpting; the scale of the subject has to be sized up to accommodate this shrinkage.
The client is asked to approve the work at this point. Ideally Bruce likes approval in person but will photograph and e-mail an image for approval.
After approval the assistants come back and help cut the mural into fireable size pieces following the contour lines of the image. Each piece is numbered on right side edge and noted on an inventory photo. After cutting down each piece is hollowed out and re-sculpted. Depending on size it can be 200 to 2000 pieces. When finished the mural lies flat and uncovered to dry, which can take up to two months. When dry the outer edges of each piece is sanded and the pieces sprayed with opaque porcelain before coloring (some murals are left the natural clay color and stained to accent detail.) Then ready for the kiln, each piece is numbered again on the top edge, inventoried on a photo, and fired.
After firing the pieces are brought back to the studio and are prepared for installation. Methods of installation vary depending on the installation site. For a Menasha, WI mural over 2000 pieces were glued and jointed onto twelve 8’ x 10’ concrete panels, lifted with a crane and bolted onto the outside wall of a brick building. At the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in Lawton, OK a mural was laid up with mortar. Bruce and his crew camped at the refuge for a week to do the installation. At Sportsman Park in Cicero, IL Chicago masons under Bruce’s supervision laid up a mural that wrapped around the corner of the building. Peru State College’s mural was glued up vertically and held in place with wood strips one foot at a time until the glue set, then jointed. A Brighton, CO mural of 745 pieces were mounted in the studio on 21 wood panels and then delivered. After preparing the wall, each panel was hung on a French cleat to lock it into place. Each location presents a unique set of circumstances that requires a site specific installation method.