Monday, September 26, 2016

"Homage to Dumas" - A Crank-operated Tribute - 2015

This piece was commissioned by a woman who discovered Alexandre Dumas' book, "The Count of Monte Cristo", at the age of nine. It's a tribute to that discovery - and to her continued admiration, and love, of his work. The piece was created in September, October, and November of last year. I put the piece on hold a couple of times, for various reasons. And now I'm just getting the chance to blog about it - it's been a busy year. 

My client came up with the scenario - the young girl, the wood shop, the boat in-progress, various details and props -and this is how it played out in my head. The little girl, sawing on a piece of wood, is in the middle of building Edmond Dantes' ship, the Pharaon. When you turn the crank, the girl's arm moves back and forth as if sawing the piece of wood. The overall measurement is 14" x 18.5" x 13".

Per my client's request, several of Dumas' books are scattered around the wood shop. Even a wooden figure of Edmond Dantès can be seen in the background.

I can't remember doing a diorama-like scene similar to this, but I really like how it came out. I loved making all the different elements of the scene.

She's quietly working away on her boat.

Her lovely face.

A shot through the yet-to-be-completed boat; to the Dantès figure in the background.

In-progress pics.......

I began with the figure, as I usually do. Actually I started this mid-September, when my Danish apprentice was here. I thought it would be good for her to watch me create one of my kinetic figures.

Here I'm figuring out the table height, and finalizing the make up of her arms, and her saw.

The mechanism inside her chest. A line pulls down on a small lever, which moves her arm back. The spring returns it forward. Back and forth, back and forth.....

Here I'm configuring the scene - the wall height and width, as well as the arrangement of the work tables.

I made turned legs for the tables, which were made from old boxes and an old drawer.

I built the base - and now she has a floor! All the tables and the walls will all be held in place using metal pegs; pegged into the floor.

Her body is all ready to be painted. Her head is sculpted from polymer clay and her body is carved basswood.

She's all painted, the clothes are made, and now she's ready to be assembled. The 2 covers on the right will protect the mechanism inside her chest.

Right before I put on the 2 covers, I check to make sure everything is working flawlessly. Then, I will sew up her shirt by hand.

The wood shop is starting to come together. There was a blank spot on the left wall - which was a perfect spot for a little wood stove - made from found objects.
The 3/8" walls were built up from 2 layers of oak plywood, (because I had it laying around; leftover from another project). The walls turned out to be very straight and stable, and relatively thin.

I aged the stove with various darkening solutions, and I love how it came out. When I was building it, I was fortunate to have all the right pieces and parts on hand.

Here I'm starting to apply a stucco finish to the walls. I really didn't want the wood grain to show through, and I love the texture of the stucco. This is a mixture of drywall compound and latex paint. I added some of the mixture to the trim as well.

The stucco is dry - now on to painting it.
(You can see the metal pegs on the bottom of the walls here.)

A quick shot to see how everything is coming together. So far, so good. The floor has been given it's final treatment of wood stain.

The walls and base have been painted, but not aged. I masked off the poster on the right wall with blue tape because I didn't want to get it messed up in the (sometimes messy) aging process.

This is after aging the walls and the base - which was done with the two shelves in place - here you can see their outlines.

Here's a detail shot of the texture created by the stucco application. After aging, I lightly sand every surface; this brings out a lot of texture. The color is a bit off in this shot, but it shows the lovely texture.

Adding all the little details - the books, tools, and other props - it's coming together now.

Dumas' books; before aging.

Her's the little hand-carved Dantès figure. I put this off until the end because I didn't have the confidence that I could do it - I thought I would screw it up. In the end, he came out pretty well.

"Of course you can carve a tiny hammer head out of a piece of lead."

The tiny hammer is finished.

Here's the mechanism in-progress. A simple hand crank, with one cam and lever. In this shot the cam is yet to be cut.

This is the ratchet, which prevents the crank from being turned the wrong way. Actually, in this piece, it wouldn't matter which way the crank was turned, but it does add that nice ratchet sound.
The two gears were found at a salvage yard, or flea market.

The movie..... (watch full screen)

Thanks again for looking!



  1. This is great piece, I love it.

  2. Thanks Len. I love it too. I was skeptical at first, but it all came together nicely.