Porcelain Plus…, Part Four: Porcelain + Metal (not bronze)

The final Porcelain-Plus Series category is best described as ‘metal components that are not bronze.’ This includes brass (as a visible component of the design) and painted ‘white metal’ whose purpose was to blend, visually, into the rest of the porcelain sculpture. Four studios – Boehm, Kazmar, Ispanky, and Cybis – used one or more of these metal elements in varying degrees.

Boehm (painted metal; brass)

As we’ve already seen, the Boehm porcelain studio regularly combined porcelain and bronze after the acquisition of their own metal foundry in the UK. I’m once again grateful to Antony Halls, formerly of Boehm of Malvern, for his detailed answers in response to my questions about how metal was used in specific sculptures. Here is his description of the non-bronze metal that was painted:

It is called ‘white metal’ and is a pewter-and-alloy mix. It is strong, but malleable as well. The parts would have been impossible to create using porcelain. I am unsure who manufactured these component parts [for Boehm]. We were using them before the bronze days. I was fitting the likes of the Ragged Robin and others in the early 80’s. All white-metal components were glued with Eastman 910…many of the floral pieces had metal parts used with them. The orchid centrepieces, for instance, had metal stems; in fact anything that you instinctively think is a metal component, invariably is.

This is the Ragged Robin mentioned in Antony’s reply.

The mallet on the polo sculptures is painted white metal, and the reins are copper strips which Antony says “were really fiddly. The stirrups were even metal.” The top two photos are of Polo Player on Bay, an edition of 100 in 1982. The other piece’s title is unknown but it too was an issue of 100.

This is the Bridled Tit, a Boehm of Malvern limited edition from 1977. It is ten inches high. Antony says of this piece,

The legs and antennae on the bug are white metal for sure. I was using those same legs on butterflies [where] the antennae was a piece of sprung steel bent into shape and glued with Eastman 910 into a slot in the head. The butterflies then had a little blob of Eastman on the tips. Oil paint was then used to colour-match. The legs had a small lug on the top that slotted into a groove that was cut into the body using a diamond-tipped cutting wheel. The legs could then be bent to touch where needed.

All of these flower studies have painted white-metal components:
Carnation with Maidenhair Fern, an open edition; the ferns are white metal.
From left to right: Bluebell, Cowslip, and Periwinkle, all open editions; all of the stems are white metal.
Empress White Camellia with Azalea, an edition of 350 in 1983; the stamens in the center of the azaleas are white metal.

I had an interesting email conversation with two different people regarding the Red Squirrels, an early (1971) Boehm of Malvern design in the ‘Moments in Nature’ series. A person who owns one of these told me a few years ago that they discovered the leaves are made of metal by means of tapping them; and the mouse’s tail is also metal. I was curious as to why the leaves would need to be of that material, and so that was one of my questions to Antony. His reply:

With the Red Squirrels, the tail was metal for sure because it would be impossible to have a floating tail that thin in porcelain. It wouldn’t stand a chance. With the leaves I am thinking why on earth would they be metal. Leaves were being made at that time in porcelain. Look how bright the leaves look. The colours are blended as happens when painting layers of ceramic paint. With regard to the tapping, there is a completely different resonance. If the leaf were glued to a metal stem, tapping [the leaf] would result in a dead reaction because the metal stem will absorb the impact; the vibration would not continue its path throughout the rest of  the porcelain model.

I was told by the owner of a Black Headed Grosbeak, a Trenton-made limited edition from 1969, that the hanging leaves and seed-pod attachments are metal. Antony’s assessment:

Upon studying the image, I would put my life on the line in saying yes the stems are metal, but the leaves are porcelain. If you look at the main porcelain branches and then at the leaves, you will see they take on the same freshness. It is impossible to paint metal to [exactly] simulate porcelain, believe me. With porcelain the thin fired layers of paint blend delicately. Painted metal is heavy and dead, if that makes sense. The legs on the bird would probably have been metal.

This insight into the detectable differences between painted metal and painted porcelain fascinated me, so I asked Antony if there is more ‘depth’ to painted porcelain components.

Yes, I think depth is a good word to use. When we paint a leaf, you start with a first-layer firing. It is a bit like an undercoat. For instance, a rose leaf would have a first firing of a yellowish green base with a turquoise shading. There may be a pink tinge applied to the outer edge or edges. After the firing we would apply a second, but thin, paint layer of bottle green and again a little more pink blended together on the edge. After firing, the underlayer colours almost shine/show through. With metal, you can’t get layer colours to work the same way. Yes you can blend colours, but there is a solidness to the surface.

This is a close-up of the Northern Water Thrush with its metal legs.

There was no secret about the metal that was used in a few Boehm pieces. What’s unclear is whether they are brass, plated brass, or simply a goldtone-plated pot metal. I have never seen any of these in person.

This series may have been called “Exotic Birds” because the Scarlet Macaw is marked EX 1 and the Cockatoo is marked EX 2. They are all between 8” and 9.5” high and were made in Trenton.

A rather tawdry-looking brass-ring halo tops the Renaissance Angel. This was a 1989 Trenton-made item, part of a series of white bisque pieces with gold painted accents and WB-series design numbers. I’m assuming that WB meant “white bisque.”

Kazmar (painted metal)

The William Kazmar studio used painted metal on many – perhaps even most – of their pieces. Some of their brochures include the tagline Wildlife Impressions in Porcelain and Wrought Metal on the cover.

The twig that the Beaver Kitten is gnawing is made of two pieces of painted white metal, each inserted into the holes in his cheeks.

A similar technique was used for the Lesser Panda.

The reed stems upon which the Marsh Wrens perch are metal. This limited edition is about 13” tall.

Metal legs were a necessity to support the Spotted Sandpiper.

Even the pieces that Kazmar later designed for The Franklin Mint include painted metal, in these examples (Angelfish and Golden Carp) it is the seaweed. These were designed by Kazmar but were manufactured offshore. More Kazmar pieces can be seen in that instalment of my Lost Porcelain Studios series.

Laszlo Ispanky (painted metal)

Details are scanty regarding how many Ispanky pieces used painted metal, whether produced in his own studio or by Goebel USA, but we do know of at least two.

This was rather a cure-worse-than-the-disease case, however. The seated ballerina Swanilda was originally designed to have porcelain ballet-shoe ribbons, but those regularly shattered during firings. The decision was made to use painted copper strips instead.
However, that brought its own problems because as time went on, the paint on the copper almost invariably flaked off. The bow in her hair is porcelain.

Here’s an example of a piece that was designed and advertised with a painted metal component (the long ribbons hanging down from her hat) but few – or maybe none at all – were actually produced that way.
Examples of Folk Dance have been found with two different Ispanky Studio stamps…but no metal ribbons!

Cybis (brass; enameled medallions; wood)

The Cybis studio completely ignored the trend of combining bronze with porcelain, and eschewed the use of painted metal. The existence of other metals in their designs depends on whether the item was made before, or after, 1960.

The after-1960 category is easy: All 15 of their carousel series pieces have a brass pole which also conveniently served as the porcelain’s sole attachment to the piece’s wood base. The only difference between the various poles is the style of the piece at the top. Five pieces, all equines, have a ring-top pole: the Carousel Horse (1972, shown here), Ticonderoga (1975), Sugarplum (1984), Carousel Charger (1984), and the Unicorn (1985.)

Four pieces have a ball-top pole: the Goat (1973), Lion (1974), Bernhard the Bear (1981; shown here) and Jumbo the Elephant (1988.)

Seven received a finial-top pole: the Tiger (1974), Bull ‘Plutus’ (1981, shown here), Seahorse (1987), Golden Thunder (1989), Pony ‘Patriot’ (1990), Buffalo (1994) and Reindeer (2008.)  The metal is definitely brass because examples seen on eBay today exhibit the signs of oxidation (darkening, pitting, and occasional verdigris) that is expected on a brass object that is several decades old.

Their original 1972 Chess Set includes a King who holds a flag that is obviously metal (although whether it is brass, or painted metal, is unclear) and a Bishop with a crozier which is possibly metal. The ‘possibly’ is because it could have been cast from porcelain, fired separately, and glued in place just as so many other small porcelain decorative elements were. However, that would be more fragile than a crozier of painted metal. Examining the photo while keeping in mind Antony Hall’s comments about painted porcelain vs painted metal, the finish on the crozier does exactly match that of the gold-painted-porcelain base area. So, my feeling is that the odds are at least 50/50 that the bishop’s crozier is porcelain. There are definitely no metal components in the subsequent retail edition of the Chess Set; for that production, the King’s flag was replaced by a small porcelain orb, and the Bishop has a porcelain cross on his lap.

The only other use of metal on retail production pieces was the Bicentennial Commission seal glued to the front of the base of the open edition George Washington Bust in 1976, but these were ordered as enameled medallions from an outside company. Likewise, Cybis pieces that were sent to the the federal government to be used as Gifts of State also had an enameled metal Presidential Seal applied to their wood base. These were probably brass, with fired enamel colors and a clear glaze on top as well.

We see only a couple of examples of metal in pre-1960s Cybis pieces.

The earliest example so far is the metal wire halo on this 1940s papka angel by Marja Cybis. This may be one of a kind, or at least of very few.

Some of the circa-1950s crucifixes had a metal hanging ring at the top if the cross was made of wood. Porcelain crosses had a hole on the back to accommodate a nail. As shown in this group, not all of the wood crosses had a top ring; the one at the far right (Redeemer of the World) does not.

Although this post focuses on metal, I can’t omit mention of an unusual episode in Cybis history regarding a ‘porcelain plus’ material: wood!

Wood, of course, was regularly used for sculpture bases, some of the 1950s crucifixes, and as a backer for small porcelain plaques (such as the Limnettes and the 1960s retail display sign.) However, at least three of the 1950s religious busts sometimes incorporated a wood element into the piece itself.

At least some of the Sun of Justice busts were given a carved wood halo. The companion piece, Mirror of Justice (Mary bust) was done the same way, and at least one Annunciation bust too.
These halos were actually made-in-India wood trivets. In most cases the studio sanded off the “India” originally stamped into the back of the trivet, but a few slipped through the cracks and have allowed the secret to leak out!
The trivet was attached to the back of the porcelain piece with green floral adhesive and/or glue. These pieces are the only examples of the combination of a ‘not-a-base’ wood element that was deliberately incorporated into a retail porcelain piece, from any studio.

Other posts in the Porcelain Plus series:

Porcelain + Bronze (how it’s done)
Porcelain + Bronze gallery
Porcelain + Rock Crystal
Porcelain + Precious Metals or Gems

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: