KFRU’s announcer said, “Broadway is blocked, Eighth and Ninth streets are
also closed to local traffic and all available fire equipment is on hand. Help
is coming from towns around” -- or words to that effect. We crowded around
the radio and heard, “Woolworth’s is totally engulfed in flames.”
Jackie Slater’s store, Made in Missouri, was very close, and she had 35 of my
little white sculptures on consignment. The fire spread to her store, the
historical Hays Hardware in the heart of Columbia; my little people were
uninsured and broken or damaged. When I was beginning to work with local clay,
Jackie arranged for me to teach a class in the basement of her store. That’s
where I met Jan Higgins, who lived near Mexico, Mo.
Jan was a tall, powerful-looking woman in western clothing. She came down the
steps asking, in a loud voice, “What is terra cotta? All I want to learn in
this class is about terra cotta.” I gulped and then bounced back to
consciousness saying, weakly, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.”
I like students who ask good questions. She had no experience with clay and
wanted to make a life-size cowboy. She wore expensive boots, pressed jeans,
western shirt and Indian jewelry. Her home north of Mexico was full of her
wonderful artwork -- all two dimensional. I agreed that we could work together
on the sculpture she had in mind. I formulated a special terra cotta clay body
for the project .
“He’s out on the range, staring at the two pieces of his broken spur,” she
said. What was in her mind rolled off her fingertips rapidly. In the following
weeks she never got clay on her neat western boots or clothing, but I was a
muddy mess! Much later, Chub revamped the kiln to make it taller, and the
cowboy, cut into several pieces, was dry enough for firing. I reassembled,
“Stony, With Broken Spur,” using epoxy. The next day Jan and her husband
loaded him and took him to an art gallery in Buffalo, Wyo.
I had learned a lot! I suggested that we make a second cowboy, for me. She
rolled some ropes of clay in her hands and quickly put together a 6-inch-tall
stick figure of “Josh, Shaving Dry.” She explained: “It’s Saturday night.
He’s seated on the ground with hat tipped out of the way and shaving with his
skinning knife.” I began building his huge form in June 1979 and completed
him in September, using 650 pounds of clay. Much was reclaimed for later use.
I turned a large egg on the potter’s wheel for his head, a bowl for his hat
crown and a tall cylinder for his neck.
Poor Josh! I cut off his head and hollowed his torso from the neck to seat~. I
cut the arms and legs enough to hollow each section and then put the slices
back so the cuts didn’t show. Jan visited four times to add the western touch.
Then I punched hundreds of holes from the inside, into shoulders, hips, feet
and hands -- to allow escape of gases as he “cooked.” His various pieces
required five firings and used a lot of epoxy to reassemble him.
Chub made a walnut base and we displayed him in Columbia at the library and at
the Gallery of Western Photography, in Florida and at Engler’s Block in
Branson. For more than a year he has greeted customers at Missouri’s largest
western store, PFI, in Springfield. We plan to bring him home soon and take
him to Mexico’s “Clay Day,” June 22-23.