Sunday, June 24, 2007

Faux Bois.
Reviving a Lost Art.
Please note that all of the items shown here, including the image at the top of the page, were hand sculpted in cement by Donald R. Tucker.
Click any of the images below for a larger view

Please note that health issues have forced me to retire from teaching as well as sculpting. I will greatly miss the teaching as I found it extremely fulfilling. I have made a number of very good friends, on several continents, through my classes and cherish the times I have had with all of you who made the trip either to The Southwest School of Art in San Antonio or the studio of Sherri Warner-Hunter in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

I thank you one and all.

Given that my prognosis is less than encouraging, I am presently scrambling to relocate the most useful information from my old website onto a new one that will hopefully remain active long after I am gone. Given how difficult it is to find reliable information about ferrocement Faux Bois, I can only hope the material remains accessible for as long as possible.

The "new", simplified site can be found here...

The coursebook below should remain available on Amazon forever (in theory).

Once again, thank you all. I can only hope that at least some of you carry this craft on into another age.


 NOTE: The Course Supplement developed for these classes is now available on Amazon and through Barnes & Noble.
The title is "An Introduction to Sculpting Ferrocement Faux Bois" 
by Donald R. Tucker


 Maps & Information! 
Faux Bois & El Trabajo Rustico 
in San Antonio, Texas
I am very pleased to announce that the good folks at the San Antonio Conservation Society have just given me authorization to publish two of the marvelous documents they and the others below worked very hard to assemble regarding Faux Bois & Trabajo Rustico in San Antonio. They were originally presented during the world's first public symposium on the subjects at The Southwest School of Art.  One is a brief treatise on the subject along with some background on Master Craftsman Dionicio Rodriguez, and the other is a first-of-its'-kind map showing the precise locations of many of this City's greatest works in these art forms by Dionicio as well as Masters Maximo & Carlos Cortes. If you ever plan on visiting this charming city, please, do take the map along and enjoy some of this town's most celebrated and beloved works. Many of these sites are now on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places and are utterly unique to this craft and the Master Craftsmen who created them.  

Trabajo Rustico In San Antonio
 Map of Masterworks In San Antonio

Many thanks to the following who made these documents possible:

University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Art and Art History
The Southwest School of Art
King William Association, and...
The San Antonio Conservation Society

Work featured in "Woodland Style".
A wonderful book by Marlene Hurley Marshall

Click the cover for a larger pic & more info. It really is a gorgeous book and I was honored to be an invited artist.


Faux Bois
(French for "False Wood")

This school of art goes back as far as art itself. From our very beginnings, artists have been fascinated with the infinite variety of shapes, forms and textures that Mother Nature expresses in trees and their wood. And while the French are indeed to be credited with giving this art a name, there are examples to be found that far predate the existence of France as a nation.

The modern schools of this art today encompass two principle branches. One employed by highly skilled wood finishers that involves itself with making "lesser" woods such as pine, have the appearance of a "finer" or more exotic wood. The other branch creates three dimensional representations of wood and wooden objects by applying various cement-based mixtures onto a steel framework or "armature", and sculpting it to mimic the real material.

The subject of this brief essay is the three dimensional variety,
also known as Ferrocement Faux Bois.

Ferrocement Faux Bois is a very popular and much sought after category among serious antique collectors. One of the most notable of whom is Martha Stewart, who collects antique as well as modern works executed by the very few remaining artisans still practicing this craft. Sadly, there are only a handful of artisans alive today who are capable of executing Faux Bois at the masterwork level.

The most familiar works are those imported from Europe by antique dealers specializing in garden art. Typically they have what I refer to as a "French" finish composed of a gray, lightly sanded mortar mixture of Portland cement and sand. What few people today, including many collectors, do not realize, is that the vast majority of these pieces were at one time painted. Often quite garishly. Thankfully, nearly all of the paint has succumbed to the nature of the concrete and fallen off, leaving only a faded and aged patina. Many of these works are crude. Others more convincing in their detail. Most of the better pieces were constructed from about 1880 to WWII, but there were a few very capable craftsmen still producing an utterly amazing body of work well into the 1950's...right here in America.

Today, the very best of those major works rightfully represent an entire category on the National Register of Historic Places. And there is a serious movement taking place to add many more and restore them to the former glory that as much as a century of neglect has all but erased in many cases.

How it is Created

The process of creating these works is at once complex, technically demanding and extraordinarily labor intensive. It involves first building a steel framework (referred to by sculptors as an "armature"), securing and forming metal mesh known as "lath", then building up multiple layers of concrete, mortar and often pure cement paste. All the while, shaping, sculpting and detailing the material as it hardens. Once the process of adding cement-based media begins...there is no stopping. The material will not wait and absolutely must be worked from beginning to end. Complex and highly detailed works can often require an artist to work non-stop for 12 to 24 hours to achieve many specific effects. Little wonder it is less than popular with today's generation of artists. But there are rewards for the few who invest themselves in this demanding art, as well as the buyers of these rare works. Because the time and effort put into a quality piece is also reflected in its' longevity. Properly formulated and skillfully placed modern cement formulations can endure exposure to the elements for an estimated fifty-thousand years. How's that for "heirloom".

And while works of this calibre are obviously rare and understandably expensive, they can still be found or commissioned by a properly skilled sculptor.


New project  underway in Houston, Texas 

September 2016

The largest bench I will have ever constructed is currently in progress. About 24 feet long with a nearly five foot tall stump/planter at one end, it will weigh in at around 5,000 pounds when completed. It is a pro bono (free) piece of work that I am doing for a great little neighborhood bar called ReHAB Bar on the Bayou. Just off IH45 near downtown Houston, it presented me the opportunity to execute a very large scale organic design meant to fit its' surroundings. It may well be my last such large scale project as some medical issues are getting in the way of the physical demands this type of work presents.

Above is a quick sketch of the design.

The welded armature in its' early stages.


With some of the "scratch coat" applied.

Above is the finished work. 6,500 pounds of sculpted cement media. All applied a handful at a time. This will very likely be my last commission but I will continue to teach and to write on this subject.

 Public Works Faux Bois Commission

I am honored to have had a fairly large scale commission approved by The Baytown Nature Center in Baytown, Texas. It is a combination of site signage and donor/volunteer recognition plaque mount. Designed to honor the look and style of the early National Park signage constructed in the 1930's by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), it consists of a horizontal, 12' long, 16" diameter log supported by two 14" diameter vertical logs.

Picture a hitchin' rail for Hippos.

I estimate the finished weight at around 4,000 pounds of welded steel and sculpted cement media. As with all my work, the entire piece was hand fabricated and sculpted with no molds involved. The most daunting aspect of this piece involved carving the name into the front face of the horizontal log. The formal name of the area this work will designate is..."CHILDREN'S NATURE DISCOVERY AREA". At a 6" letter height, the name stretches to well over 100 inches in length and is carved about 3/4's of an inch deep. It made for a lot of very exacting work that absolutely had to be accomplished in a single pass before the media set solid.

Below is the very first concept sketch. At this stage, note that the name I was given to work with did not include "NATURE" and that the piece is only ten-feet long. The addition of that single word complicated the structural engineering, required extending the overall length to the current twelve-feet and added another 450 pounds.

Baytown Nature Center Concept Sketch

Click Here to View The Progress Pix of This Work


More Examples of my Commission Work:
Click any of the images below for a larger view


Custom Faux Bois Bench

Bench Commission Progress Part One

Bench Commission Progress Part Two

December 31, 2008: The project below was installed on New Year's Eve Day of 2008. The links above show the processes required to construct the work shown below.

To Learn More

To learn more, visit the site below. It is dedicated to teaching and sharing many of the "lost" techniques involved in sculpting Ferrocement Faux Bois as well as working with a host of other media for home, garden and interior use. It's all about creating and having fun doing it.




Faux Bois Sculpting Classes by Donald Tucker

Donald Tucker is the only artisan ever to share and teach the techniques, processes and "secret" formulations of advanced Faux Bois sculpting. These intensive & in depth courses are presented in conjunction with host organizations including highly regarded art schools and professional teaching artist's studios.

The 2008 "Introduction to Sculpting Ferrocement Faux Bois" class in Montrose, Colorado was a tremendous success and had the largest turnout ever hosted by The Ferrocement Educational Network (FEN). Special thanks goes out to Paul Sarnstrom for all the work he does year round to make such classes possible. Below is a photo of the Class of '08 with the various Faux Bois projects they completed during the week. Great job folks! Thank you all.

The Class of 2010 at Sherri Warner Hunter's wonderful studio in beautiful Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Great bunch of folks who crafted some very impressive work!

The Class of 2011 at the grand old Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas produced some genuinely wonderful & inspiring work.

What a great bunch of talented folks! And for the third year in a row, a student came all the from Oz (Australia) to take a class at Sherri's! Thank you all for making teaching such a rewarding pleasure. 

We had an absolutely outstanding class for 2015 at Sherri Warner-Hunters wonderful new studio in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Some truly excellent work by a really great bunch of folks. Results like this are what make teaching these classes such a delight. Thank you all!

Class of 2018 at The Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas. I was once again amazed at the work accomplished by an enthusiastic group of folks who came from all over to learn this craft.