Interview with Frank and Lally House:
Question: So Frank, Lally…, how did the project to produce this wonderful sculpture come about?
Well, I have talked to folks who seemed to think that this idea just “came out of thin air”. But, 12 or 14 years ago, while pondering if there was ever going to be a way to bring these 18th century items that we all love, from the craft world and have them recognized as “art”, the idea of a sculpture created with items all entirely handmade came to mind. Much thought went into this piece as a single entity; having many integral parts, but still very much “one” piece of art that would be accepted into the demanding “art world” taking our unaccepted “things” along with it. I was watching the “History Channel” one night and caught a show on the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”. As the 40 foot ivory sculpture of “Zeus”, by the Athenian sculptor Phidias, was being described, it hit me! I would make at least the face and hands out of mosaic bone and ivory. I look back now and really wonder how we did it. I had no formal training in sculpture and really no idea how to proceed. So I must admit, this piece comes from the heart and not from training in a classroom.
I give much credit to the Contemporary Longrifle Association, for nurturing the confidence to finally attempt such a piece. The formation of the C.L.A. provided an annual venue for “us” as artist to anticipate and work an entire year to produce something to exhibit our thoughts, and artistic expression to the Contemporary art world. At the 2nd annual meeting of the CLA, Lally and I presented our first monumental “duo” piece. It is an American Colonial Style Sword with Porcupine Quillwork Baldric & Frog. This hand forged sword blade is gripped with green-stained Ivory with spiral gadrooning and capped with a silver repousse pommel in the form of an animal head. The guard with steel chain is pierced silver with punched and engraved decoration. The Porcupine Quillwork decorated Baldric and Frog displays repeating geometric Native American designs created with multicolored natural dyed quills. I must admit it is still some of our best individual work and a milestone with Lally and I working together. While working on this set, we had dreamed and “toyed” with ideas of making a sculpture on which to display the piece, but as usual we were pushing it just to get it done for the show.
While at Fort Frederick, Lally met George Lower from Lord Nelson’s Gallery in Gettysburg and he invited us to “History Meets the Arts”. We wanted our first year at H.M.A, to be extraordinary, so Lally and I decided to create a composite “work of art” that would bring each of our individual mediums to life, all the while doing our best to truly put them into the dynamic context they belong in. Not flat art, but dynamic art! Not just another rifle, powder horn, or piece of quillwork laying on table, but something 3-dimensional, a complete entity with life and spirit. It was Lally’s contribution to make him Native American. My thoughts had originally centered more towards a “rifleman” or someone that might have possibly carried the sword.
Question: So Lally, what are your thoughts about this unique project?
It has been a dream of mine for years for “our” work to be recognized as “art” instead of “craft”. It [quillwork, and especially gunwork] always seems to be associated with “re-creation or replication” rather than identified as unique and original creations of artwork produced using 18th century methods, materials and design elements. I take great pains to create my own original designs and generally do not copy or reproduce other existing pieces of quillwork. I always use braintan for my pieces and I take great pride in using natural dying methods and colors that were used during the mid-18th century by the Eastern Woodland Indian tribes.
As for Gillman, (laughing), I always called him Gillman; we used Frank as a pattern and that’s his middle name you know,… but I decided he should be Delaware, or as they call themselves, Lanape. They were called the "Grandfather" tribe and were well respected by other tribes as peacemakers, often settling disputes among rival tribes. They were also known for fierceness and tenacity as warriors if forced to fight, however, they always preferred to choose a path of peace if at all possible. I wanted each individual piece of my work to become part of the “whole”, showing a long life of both native and white influence. As a middle-aged individual he would have seen and done a lot. He is probably a minor chief as is somewhat signified by the amount of trade silver that adorns him. His tattoos are also all traditional; most tattooing were signs of rank or done to commemorate an event or time. His bag is Delaware, but his knife is Iroquois, showing influence of trade among tribes. The scalp lock on his head is actually human hair that I cut from Frank’s head. The porcupine quill adorned “roach” is braided into hemp and around two willow sticks. It is dyed bright red using Cochineal bugs. The cones are silver with dyed deer hair and all the paint is true vermilion. The breechclout is trade wool with the un-dyed selvage edge. His leggings are smoked brain tan, dyed with walnut hulls and sewn with linen thread. His shirt is homespun flax linen and hand sewn. We fashioned his body using limbs from a willow tree. You know, Frank and his brother John used to make “willow” porch furniture, and we somewhat used that same technique to make the torso. We used cotton quilt batting to cover that and then we covered him again, sort of making his skin with homespun flax linen.
Question: How long did it take to make him?
We have a nine-month investment of time, but that is not counting years of planning and thought time. But for nine months, I ate-drank-and slept, “sculpture”. I would go to bed – get up – work all day – eat supper – work more into the night and get up and do it again. And the work did not stop when the shop door closed. I was completely pre-occupied with the project.