So I had drawn several large sketches to present during my proposal today, of possible “straight line” column shapes, some with silo type roofs, some with flat tops of living sod. Some were simple and others more complicated. I built this scale model just to show how the armature would be made an how I could build with cob around it.

I have no idea, yet, how I want the outside to look, and since it’s site specific and I don’t know what I will embed into the cob. I had to do something, though, so I just experimented with textures and whatever detritus I could find around my studio door. I poked a bunch of pine needles in it and liked the bristly nail-fetish effect. Maybe a whole column bristling with sticks? I thought about glass bottles piercing the walls, and used Molly’s glass beads to reproduce the effect. I just dorked around to see how stuff looked.

It had been fun to make the model. I was that kid in 4th grade who really liked making the volcano out of salt dough or the diorama in a shoebox. For this one I slid a box of wet sand inside the box supporting my model, and then poked peppermint, oregano and lavender through holes into the wet, to look like bushes.

Here was my rationale:


Sculpture Proposal: Written Rationale

Why cob?

Cob costs nothing.

It is long lasting, yet will eventually weather away to its original ingredients: sand, clay and plant material.

Cob is natural, earth-friendly and appropriate for animal habitat and natural spaces. It doesn’t impose any materials on an environment, it just rearranges materials already there.

Cob is earth. Seeds planted in it will grow.

And cob contains clay. As a potter, I like that… and it seems well suited to a potter’s property, as well.

While I originally had envisioned a structure made of cob, I am now thinking of cob as a “mortar” to hold together other materials. Unlike clay, cob won’t shrink around objects when it dries.

Why impressed objects?

It’s difficult to plan here, for a site-specific project to be completed there. By leaving lots of question marks and undecided aspects of the project, I can allow for exploration and inspiration to play a part of the project. Will I find clay? What color will it be? Are there snail shells, fossils, is there interesting junk?

I can also create objects from clay to represent what I cannot find. Maybe shelf mushrooms, or ancient fossils to affix to the cob. Since I have a propane tank on my camper, carry a torch, and have access to stackable fire brick, it would be a simple thing to make a small raku or pit kiln to fire “inclusions”.

Why a column?

I spent the first week and a half sketching dome forms, rounded, organic objects that could be experienced from the inside. It felt familiar to me, like a vessel, a dwelling, and far from the scrape-across-the-desert or pointy-concrete-bunker art that seemed to me so arrogant and visually jarring.

When handed the challenge of working with straight lines, though, a column seemed like a good compromise. The inability to enter it will keep me focused on aesthetics over function, and the challenges of armature and threat of collapse will test my ability.

A column is also a tree trunk, a silo, and in this case, a figure about the height and width of the human who makes it.

Why habitat?

It seems only fair to offer a “hostess gift” to the wildlife making room for our sculpture. As rotten logs and hollow trees become scarce in an urbanized landscape, some cavity nesters have trouble finding nest sites, and animals intended to burrow at the base of trees can hardly find shelter on the golf course or metropark.

The large, seemingly in hospitable sculpture at the University of Michigan campus housed both a bird nest and a hornet’s nest. Either would be welcome in my cob column.

I have let go of the notion of function as much as I can. I accept that I will not be baking bread in my sculpture, nor crawling inside for a nap. But I like to think that birds might move in, or that some small mammal might hibernate in the base over the winter. At the very least it will likely collect the kinds of spiderwebs and cocoons I found inside Laurie Spencer’s “Phoenix Cairn”.

Happily, openings in the base, and a few holes in the sides, will aid in the building and stoking of the internal fire at the week’s end.

Why fire?

Cob hardened by fire becomes sturdy. Being mostly sand, it will never vitrify and become “fired”, but it will stiffen the inner layer, adding support to the entire structure.

There is a certain performance aspect, as well, a celebratory display when the project is finally finished.

I am curious, as well, to see how glass bottles might react if embedded through the cob with necks facing inward over the fire.

Why a living roof?

Grass, or moss, or some form of forest-floor on the lid of the piece will serve several purposes.

It will help with the illusion that this is somhow a “rising”. A core of what lies beneath the soil suddenly raised above it, with the cap of surface still intact.

It will combine the cob architecture traditions of both flat roofs – like adobe or West African homes – and the thatched or living roofs native to other places. I have seen photos of goats grazing on sod roofs in some northern countries. While my roof might not live long and likely won’t support a goat, it might at least entertain the occasional dragonfly or bird, and seem more hospitable than asphalt shingle.

The surface of the living earth is an organism, able to heal. It grows over our insults. Highway is forever, but the grassy roadside ditches accept our litter and bury it, season by season, along with the roadkill deer that will be digested and put to good use. The forest floor is alive with nematodes, insects, fungi, all busy turning fallen trees and leaves into good soil for what comes next. I like the idea of elevating a circle of that soil, even temporarily, even symbolically.

Kelly Savino

July 12, 2007


I got some good suggestions both from teachers and the class. What about incorporating green, growing plants into the piece? What about a bowl shaped lidtat would retain rainwater, with lips directing runoff to the green things? What about buildingit around a dead tree? What about making more than one?

The sculpture prof looked a little sideways at my model, thoug, and expressed his concern that my finished work not look like “A hippie totem pole”.

Then I took my ewers to Diana’s and lined them up in rows along her back deck. I have never been in the same room with Diana nd my ewers, and was really hungry for feedback.

Some of what she said rang a bell, and now I can’t unsee what is wrong with those pots when I line them up again. Thus far no two are alike, though they seem to fall into families (except for a few mutants.) She has asked me to settle on a few prevalent body shapes, make half a dozen of each, and thenmake variations with slightly more family resemblance and subtler variations. When Iget back from the woods, that’s what I’ll do.

Off to teach at the guild, and then it’s time to start packing the pop-up.