The Four Seasons of Badhoevedorp

block of houses with the figurines of the Four Seasons in Badhoevedorp

An urgent case in Badhoevedorp

figurine Spring Four Seasons brokenFour sandstone statues from Badhoevedorp were in bad condition. We received an emergency phone call: Could we remove them in the shortest term possible, and repair and then reinstall them?.

When we got there it turned out that it was not for nothing. What I thought I'd seen in the pictures turned out to be correct: it was their anchorings. Due to corrosion in the iron pins on which the statues were placed, they were cracked and three of the four sculptures stood shaky on their remaining shards, waiting for another storm to be their last. I was a bit shocked by the dangerous situation, for the statues were placed directly above the entrances!

Four Seasons

figurine Autumn reinstalledI soon discovered that these were depicitions of the Four Seasons, probably made in the 1950's. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out who made them, but clearly it had been a classically trained sculptor. For a moment I thought they had been cast in sand cement, because the material was so coarse and crumbly. But everywhere, especially at the rear, the characteristic traces of tooth chisels were to be found, and of the pointed chisel and flat chisel. So it definitely was carved out of natural stone, a greenish gray sandstone. But not of the best quality. This porosity had contributed to the anchors rusting.

The expansive power of rusting iron

rusting iron pin damages statuesIron expands when it rusts. It can then grow up to 7 times as thick and slowly crush each type of stone. It's the same process as with concrete degradation: moisture penetrates into the base matter and corrodes the iron parts, that then expand and cause the stone to shatter. The moisture had penetrated to the core of the statues through the open sandstone. The iron pins had started to rust, although these were actually not even glued to the statues. The statues had only been slid over them and then placed on a layer of cement mortar. Yet three of the four sculptures were so cracked that they only rested on the last shards.

Restoration and impregnation

Winter and Autumn broken sculpturesIn September we drove to Badhoevedorp and disassembled the statues. Due to these pressing times, they have been left in storage for a while, until I could find the time to restore them. The figurines of the Four Seasons have been repaired with epoxy glue and restoration mortar. The new stainless steel anchorage is also glued in with epoxy mortar.

Broken statues of Spring and SummerThen I treated the figurines with a transparent hydrophobicizing agent, to repel algae and protect them from frost penetration and to delay weathering. By applying many layers of it, this liquid has saturated deep into the stone. Water will now bead more off the stone than penetrate it, while any residual moisture present can still evaporate, because it is breathable. A gore-tex jacket for stone statues, so to speak.

Pressure washing?

impregnation of the figurines of the Four Seasons with hydrophobic agentOne reason for this anti-moisture treatment is that I found traces of cleaning with a high pressure cleaner, which has not done the Four Seasons any good. That must have been done against moss buildup- and to prevent algae growth, but it is not too good for the stone, certainly not with an already somewhat fragile sandstone. Small particles from the surface of the sculpture will detach, and moisture will penetrate ever deeper into weak spots. Clay inclusions are also rinsed clean as a result, causing the vulnerable areas to become bigger and bigger and details to blur. One could consider impregnating the figurines with acrylic resin or else with a silica-forming solution, that can strengthen the stone. But for the moment, the treatment I have given them now should keep the figurines good for decades.

Sandstone is fragile?

figurine Spring Four Seasons reinstalled


Often people also seem to react very strongly to the word 'sandstone’ when they hear that a sculpture has been made out of it. Maybe they think it's just a collection of loose grains or something, but lay people usually think that sandstone is a super-fast degrading stone. But the opposite is true. Statues of Bentheimer sandstone, for example, can stay sharp over 300 years in all weathers. Unless there are many fish-eating seagulls defecating on it, that is, as with the sandstone falcon from Franeker. In the Badhoevedorp case, the vulnerability was mainly due to the lesser quality of the blocks of stone. In other cases it is mainly calcareous sandstone and sandy limestone that causes problems.

One percent regulation


The figurines of the Four Seasons were reinstalled last week. The hardest thing about this work was actually just drilling out the old anchorage, which was a time consuming job. But the installation itself was actually quite easy.

The residents were noticeably happy that their sculptures had returned, and rightly so, because they define the entrance and the facades against which they stand. I also like their style myself, and I think it's a shame we don't do this anymore, placing sculpture onto buildings. When I see how much appreciation there is for them, it is actually surprising: they have a clear function and add beauty and character to the built environment. That was also the reason that there was a one percent arrangement since the 1950s which was intended for works of art: 1 percent of the construction cost of public buildings above a certain budget had to be spent on sculptures or wall reliefs or ceramics or glass art.

Beauty made secondary to profit

figurine Autumn reinstalled


But nowadays we all think it's a waste of money and people tend to build huge houses on a postage tamp. Property has greater interests than the beauty of our living environment.

I expect that there will certainly be another period of change one day. After all, things like this always happen in a wave motion. But it still amazes me that beauty is sacrificed for profit. Whereas a beautiful environment requires less maintenance than an ugly one, because people have more affinity with it and take care of it better. Junk attracts junk, and ugly buildings are also quickly demolished and replaced by more contemporary ones. Valued buildings do not always escape this fate, but it seems they stand a better chance.

A turnaround is not yet ruled out

figurine Winter Four Seasons reinstalled


Still, every now and then something nice in the sculptural way happens to buildings. Okay, unfortunately many architects seem to think that the craft is dead and unaffordable, and something then gets designed and executed on the computer. But when you see what happened in Haarlem with the facade reliefs of the old bus and tramway terrain, then you can get a taste how sculpture can still find its way back to the neighborhood.

I think a revival is still possible. As far as I'm concerned, it could all be a little less with the grand aspirations. I prefer to see something more small-scale, intimate work that evokes recognition, perhaps also a bit more falling under the heading of 'applied art’ than imposing works that actually mainly strive after an effect. That would probably be a professional deviation, this affinity with hidden sculptures and reliefs. But I'm curious if more people think that way. I am also curious about the themes we would propose now, or whether we would design those Four Seasons very differently today. I myself at least have plenty of ideas!

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Modelling griffin in clay and plaster

Jelle modelinf the griffin. Modeling Griffin in clay and then cast it in plaster

Jelle and I are halfway there with the modeling work on the griffin

Continuing with the large griffin

griffin modeling in artificial clay It's a project with long interruptions, because there's always work coming in between that seems to be much more pressing. But last summer there was a holiday period in which Jelle and I could get to work to finally shape the large mirrored griffins. In my last post on this, from more than a year earlier, I said that these two mirrored griffins will probably be cast in concrete. But I got good news from the customer: on closer inspection he preferred sandstone originals to concrete casts. We can proceed to carving them in stone! I decided that this is quite a big project for me alone and that I would like to make it together with Jelle Steendam both the modelling and the carving. With the combination of both our senses of shape and an extra pair of hands, this will become a great piece of sculpture that I am extremely enthusiastic about.

Not foam but clay

Making steel frames for the work of griffin in clay and then casting in plaster

I had already started to enlarge my scale model in hard foam. But the work was not to my liking. I could not get the suppleness that I had in mind and decided to do it differently and thus, I wanted to model the griffin in clay. The first step was a sturdy frame. I drew a contour template from my scale model, enlarged this to the desired scale and sawed it out of a sheet of wood. Then I welded together a steel frame from square profile tube for the griffin. I could roughly model the body of the griffin out of wire mesh and fix it to the frame, and filled with polyurethane foam. I made the wings removable.


modeling griffin shield in clay 3Then came the modeling of the shield. The shield is such an intricate movement of parts with all kinds of details that at first it was difficult to read from the small pictures. When we were almost done with all the casts, the client sent us a whole series of razor-sharp photos showing that I had been very close to the original. But there was also new information that we discovered on them which we will certainly incorporate in the reconstruction. I had already spent many hours in photo editing to find out what it once had looked like.

old photo griffin in situA colleague noted that he was more likely to use such old photos as a guide to make his own animals than to make an exact copy of them. There is also something to be said for that. But for myself it has been a challenge to reconstruct and approach the level of the old griffins. It has made me a better sculptor. And it is also a very educational project for Jelle. He has a lot more modeling experience than I do and is also better acquainted with making plaster caps. But doing it on this scale is new to him too! So together we learn a lot. Only when we really start carving will we be on familiar territory; we have done that many times before.

I made a one-sided cap from the shield and with the help of Jelle also a plaster cast. We could use this for further modeling work on the griffin's body.

Teeny tiny knights

family crest Von Klot for left griffin's shieldThe shields are also both different. They both have a family crest on it, one is of Graf Von Klot-Trautvetter with two helmets and two knights with banners and lances and a motto, and the other of Graf Von Bohlen, with five griffins and three helmets and the weapon motto "Cave Gryphem". These family coats of arms alone are extremely laborious pieces, so this is a project we will be spending a lot of weeks on in addition to the time we needed to model it in clay.

family coat of arms Von Bohlen for right hand griffin's shieldThe general shape of the shield I had also modeled n clay and cast in plaster. I did not model that whole family crest, because that is a lot of work that you cannot transfer anyway with the copying saw. I could better carve it directly into the stone, which is much faster once the drawing's transferred onto it. A good example for this is the large family crest with two griffins that I made in 2013 in sandstone.

The body of the griffin

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plasterThen came step three: modeling the body, the wings and the tail. This was the point where Jelle could also come into action. Together we shaped the griffin in a number of days of intensive modeling. Clay can naturally dry out and shrink, so it was very nice that we could do this together in a shorter time. The griffin will be 115 cm tall and the shield 122 cms, so that was hard work.

Plaster molds

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plasterBut you can't do much with a clay model. When it dries out, it will crack and disintegrate. When wet, it can sag or become damaged. That is why we have used up a gigantic load of plaster to arrive at a plaster model. We were satisfied with the expression of the clay griffin, so that we could proceed to step 3: Placing plaster molds over it.

First I took off the wings and tail and made separate plaster molds for those. Then we made, in an intensive rhythm of mixing plaster, putting on a thin layer of plaster in color and applying a thicker layer over it, a plaster mold for the belly of the griffin. The last two molds were for the griffin's head. We definedthe seams with strips of metal, in this case cut from a sheet of zinc that I still had. Finally, the two molds for the left and right half of the griffin followed.


modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. Hollow plaster casts.After that Jelle and I made casts of each mold part. We had mixed a good load of glass fiber through the plaster, so that the casts could remain thin. Finally, we joined the loose parts together with more plaster, which we smeared over the seams from within. Overall, we now have a hollow griffin of approx 8 cms thick, that we can still handle a bit.

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. carving away the plaster moldsBut the statue was still encased in the plaster molds! That is why we have also been busy for a few days to carve away all the molds from the plaster cast. Fortunately, we had added a little red dye to the inner layer of the plaster molds, allowing us to see when we were getting close to the final surface. We ended up with a bunch of casts, which may not have been perfect according to the views of professional mold makers, but more than sufficient quality for our copying saw and also good enough for a maquette to start sculpting from.


modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. Carving away the last remnants of plaster by JelleThis griffin will later on be carved in stone. And just like all those flying buttress figurines of the past years, it is first sawn on the sculpture sawing machine. For this we need a sturdy model that does not depress when a follower disc rests on it. I could've also cut the beast out of foam and covered it with polyester, but with this method we were more flexible with the design. After all, you can easily remove and add clay, and with foam that becomes more difficult.

But the griffin will become two different griffins, a left version and a right one. They need to be mirrored and that means the front legs, the claws, sit differently with one version than with the other. I thought we could first cut out and sculpt one griffin, and that we will then adjust the plaster legs of the model so that the right claw holds the shield and it rests on the left.

Ordered some sandstone

For these two griffins, the two shields, the four wings and the two tails I have now ordered a batch of Obernkirchener sandstone. The quarry informed me that it will take a while to find good blocks of such a large size for the sculptures. But I really wanted this type of stone, although it is very dense and quite difficult to carve. But it is extremely weather resistant and has a beautiful color. Above all, the material is very strong. I had cut a slice of approx 1 cm thick, about 15 x 15 cms, and I couldn't break it with my hands. And yet I still have quite a lot of strength in my fingers. This is a perfect property for my purposes, because these beasts will be standing on 1 front leg, and the shield, the wings and tail are not very thick either. This way they can last a few centuries. is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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Large finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

Our first work on the Dom Tower

The restoration of the Dom Tower is in full swing in Utrecht. We cannot escape it either and will provide a whole batch of ornamental work for this. In October we received the first parts: three large finials for the Dom Tower. They will be placed on the balustrade at the top, at approximately 100 meters height. We divided these three finials among Serge, Jelle and myself. Soon we will get 16 large crockets. Jelle and I have been up the tower before to carve a number of trial ornaments, read a short article about this in the annual overview of 2019.

Meticulous copying

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

First making the large shape on the bottom

The old finials were made from a French limestone, but this type is no longer available because the quarry is closed. These copies were therefore made in English Portland stone. The ornemants are 80 x 80 cm wide and about the same height.

That is a laborious job that takes three weeks of work, and then also the tails have to be made on it, where it used to be just two separate parts. Because these were the first ornaments we'll be making for the tower, the restoration committee wanted to be sure that the old quality was preserved. In particular, some consultation was needed about the type of surface treatment. That is why there has been a viewing twice during which all details were discussed. All parts will be placed together on the tower later on, where they are now made in two separate workshops and by three different sculptors. This consultation is necessary in order to maintain unity.

Why replace them?

finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

rough-carved finial

The old finials of the Dom Tower actually still look quite good. But a closer look shows that cracks are appearing and the stone is coming to an end. These ornaments have been carved over the years 1903 to 1911 and are therefore over 100 years old. These limestones are known for deteriorating after 100 years in our climate and are at the end of their life cycle. They sit at a great height and if a small piece should fall down, where there are always many people walking around, then it could be deadly. One of the premises for this restoration is that the next major overhaul will be in 50 years and that this restoration therefore should last for 50 years should last. That would be an awful lot to ask from these old finials.

Rigid design

These finials for the Dom Tower were made under a strict regime at the time and are carved almost geometrically. So our task was to imitate this work just as accurately and to allow ourselves little in the way of freedom. I noticed that the whole ornament was still tightly embedded in the original block of stone. The masses were still following the outlines of this block and from a slight angle you can clearly see that all the highest points are in one plane and only the leaf edges are slightly undulating. True gothic crockets are often much looser and make smooth movements that are more difficult to follow, but these neo-gothic ornaments are quite regular and rigid. That also makes it a lot easier to copy: with a plastic template you can copy many of the shapes.


Below is a photo impression of my work on the finials for the Dom Tower.

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