The Making of Harriet Tubman

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.


~ Harriet Tubman


Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

I fell in love with the strength of Ms. Tubman's character...which shows in the strength and fire in her face. 

An amazing woman - as inteligent as she was brave. I chose "Chestnut" waterbased clay for this portrait bust of Underground Railroad Conductor Harriet Tubman. This clay has an earthy, gritty quality that I felt would compliment the sculputure.

Inspiration comes from many sources. I remember once, back when I was doing a lot of paintings for galleries, that someone asked me why nearly all my subject matter was women or groups of women. Surprisingly, I'd never noticed that fact before! When an artist chooses to paint or sculpt, it's usually something that 'speaks' to them. In my case, the women were probably representative of my mother and sisters - we're so different yet so very close. I love how women are so supportive, collaborative and giving and that is often a theme in my work.

In the photo above, you can see that I've printed out a few photos for reference. Most are from her later years and I'm going to try to portray her in her prime - we'll see ;-). This stage is about 45 minutes. I've started to rough in the shape.

Above you'll see the forms of the face are blocked in more. I've started roughing in the nose, mouth, chin. This is old clay that I've re-wet and it's a bit heavy at the moment. This is roughly 90 minutes into the piece.

And here we are at the 2 hour stage. Getting more volume onto the face and beginning to block in the eyes a bit. At this point, I had to stop work for the day, as I'd gotten a late start. So I lightly misted and bagged her up for the night.

Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
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Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

I  let the clay firm up some more and then cut off the top of Harriet Tubman's head to continue hollowing out more. The clay is quite heavy and thinner walls fire better taking some of the excessive weight out of the finished sculpture. As I sculpt and make changes, I can add on a lot of additional clay. When I feel the portrait getting heavy I know it's time to hollow again.

By lifting the sculpture up, I can feel not only the increased weight, but where the weight is. That allows me to target an area for additional hollowing, which keeps the piece centered. Something you'll want to keep in mind when the piece is fired and ready for professional mounting..

I repair the area that was sliced off to gain access to the interior for hollowing. After putting the piece back together, I carve out a section of the join, add more slip, then some fresh clay.

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Making of Harriet Tubman  clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
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Making of Harriet Tubman  clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
Making of Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

I continued to refine until I felt that I struck a balance of free strokes and polish. The clay is a very heavy, firm, groggy clay called Chestnut that I got at Mile Hi Ceramics. It's an interesting clay to work with but the heavy grog can be a bit sandy to work with. I find that the grog (sandy, pebbly particles that add body and strength to a clay while reducing shrinkage rate when firing) comes to the surface when using sponging or brushing with water on the surface. However, if you push on the surface using wood or metal tools or pallets, the grog is pushed deeper into the clay and the surface is smooth - or at least smoother. I found this to be an interesting combination as I burnished a few areas where the skin would be most taught, giving a tighter, more light-reflective property to the clay and leaving the more textured, groggy clay for other areas. Very tacticile. 

Wax chasing Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Harriet was very inspiring to sculpt. I took longer than I needed because I tried out different sculpting techniques from very impressionistic to fairly tight. I have to say that I really liked the looseness of the impressionistic version - so full of energy. However, as she neared completion the strength of her personality in her face competed with the strong strokes of the very loose version so I refined a bit more to allow her strong face to shine.

Metal chasing Harriet Tubman clay portrait sculpture bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Once fired and patinaed, the sculpture drew a lot of attention. Realizing that there are just some works an artist can't part with, I decided to create a small limited edition in bronze of only 9 pieces - keeping the original in the studio with me.

Tessa Derbin did a great job taking a mold from the orginal - she poured the wax, which I then chased. After getting the bronze back from Madd Castings (see how a bronze is made) Bob Page did the metal chasing and Dale Cisek created the hot patina before I took the piece to The Base Shop, where it was mounted to a two-tiered black granite base.

Harriet Tubman portrait sculpture bust in bronze by Lori Kiplinger Pandy


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