Turtle Story

Turtle Sculpture in progress.

A Commission of a snapping turtle began for a client, who lived on Turtle Lake. The craftsman, Roger Loyson, then had to plan what material to use, how large would this turtle be, should this be abstract or closer to the real creature? Thus began an "education" about the last dinosaur! The project would span over a years time with 450 hours of hands-on work and some sleepless nights. The idea was to make a creature larger than life. The first request was for an abstract turtle...but soon a taxidermy mounted snapping turtle appeared from the University of North Dakota Grand Forks ...and it was now to look more life-like.

The next step was acquiring many turtle shells using the internet from all around the country and the plan began to take shape. But with all the work and time Roger saw ahead ...why not use a really exceptional and beautiful metal ...Bronze!! If steel were used, being an outside piece of art, it would rust and paint was not an option. This was my first commissioned piece, and I was nervous! My previous training was primarily in steel fabrication, with three years of blacksmith forging metal. I vowed to do the best I could like my Dad had always taught me.

Turtle Sculpture in progress.

Herein started a long term creation of a giant Snapping Turtle. The first step was to find a company who sold sheet bronze. Our first attempts searching the internet found one company in Colorado with the needed .060 (1/16) silicon bronze sheet, and so our first order was placed and we anxiously awaited its arrival. We determined the size of our giant turtle shell would be 2.75 times larger than the 16" taxidermy model (shell only). I know that probably doesn't sound gigantic, but multiplied out that made a carapace (top shell) of 42" long, with a total body length of 7' 6". The weight came to over 300 pounds. One BIG snapper! I know you're probably asking why so big and why not formed out of clay then sent off to be cast in a foundry! I built a Big MacMobile™ for the McDonald's Corporation™ that was 24 times larger than the real Big Mac™ turned out really huge and it made people always stop and look, but that's another story. I guess I wanted a turtle that would make you take notice which, sometimes only larger-than-life can do that! So why work directly in bronze sheet? Well certainly there would be only one made, it would be unique and a challenge to anyone.

Turtle shell in progress.

Once you work directly with the metal (bronze) it seems to speak to you, telling you what shape and form it desires. I personally do not think clay modeling would be as satisfying or demanding enough for me. The method I used to bring this animal up into bronze relief was to take an actual pattern of 38 scutes (of top shell), making up the carapace. I traced on plastic, off the model, each scute and multiplied it 2.75 times. Then I formed each plate using typical metalsmith tools, a shot bag, wood stump, wood hammer, and steel shapes to work from the backside (repousse). Then bronze wire was welded from the backside, joining the plates together. No welds were to show on the front, 13 major scutes were finished. Then the 25 smaller plates around the perimeter would complete the top of the shell. I might add that each scute was worked from the back side with a wood mallet to add slight texture so that light would reflect the many prismatic shapes. An air engraver was used to make up the age lines. I was learning as I went, that bronze would only take on a "life look" if you worked every inch of it.

Turtle in progress.

So far so good, the top shell had lots of character and detail. I figured the only mistake I could make was to "see" a mistake and not correct it. I prepared for 50% of mistakes: Next came forming body parts. It took some thought and the help from my Higher Power to come up with the idea of mounting the shell on a tee-spit and have it higher off the floor. Similar to frames that auto restorers use to repair antique cars. This way the shell could be mounted at a predetermined height and still be able to be turned from top to bottom, to be worked on easily. On the common rail sliding foot pads were installed, so I could determine distance from shell to foot position. Making six individual appendages, four legs, tail and head was difficult enough without having to worry about accurate measurements, than having to temporarily hang these all at the same time. You know how when you set something up on your bench it can end up on the floor rather quickly. Building each body part was accomplished with round rod formed to scale called an armature, to be removed after framing. Keith Johnson, my friend and mentor, convinced me to build with 1/2 inch bronze strips instead of trying to form up with large pieces (good idea!) This way I could shape each strip before welding. I needed to join all these pieces together and also make skin texture.

Turtle head close up.

Eighty pounds of bronze wire (approximately 25 miles) one dot at a time, was placed at random, to both join the strips plus make a life-like skin. Natural wrinkles, shapes and tucks were also added for realism. The rack worked well to attach all body parts. I remember I removed and repositioned the head 3 times (part of the 50% mistakes). I wanted the glass taxidermy eyes to be looking at you from anywhere you stood. Lots of chasing ensued, followed by polishing before adding the patina. Would I do a bronze this way again? Surely, I have already started another 2.75 times larger bronze, an armadillo, but that's another story! People view this type of art quite a long time, with "my goshes" added. At "CeeDee Turtle's" first showing at the (wow!) Northern Metal smith's Conference in April 2001, he won the coveted Hubler award, signifying the finest workmanship! Thanks for letting me share my God-given talent with you.

For more information on this piece

Contact the Artist at:
email: rogerloyson@gmail.com

Commission The Artist

To create a one-of-a-kind piece for your home.