Former Rector resident preserves lost art form

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

A former Rector resident, Mrs. Lyndall (Sigsby) Hardin, presented a program on china painting to the Rector GFWC Woman's Club when members met on Thursday, March 20.

In 1959, Mrs. Hardin came back to Arkansas from Texas. During her time in Texas she had been exposed to working in ceramics with kiln molds and clay. She taught ceramics to others until 1964. During the years between 1959 and 1964 she did pour some porcelain, but she did not china paint other than figurines.

As she had her children and the family business grew, her ceramics work fell by the wayside. Hardin said she didn't use her kilns for seven or eight years due to raising her family and working in the business.

When she was ready to get back into ceramic work she said, "I called Mrs. Haney in Memphis about ceramic workshops and starting again." The first workshop Mrs. Haney had was on china painting. Hardin said, "I came home with two or three good pieces and I was hooked." She started painting china seriously in 1981.

Mrs. Hardin joined the Dogwood China Club in Jonesboro. The club has close to 30 members from the surrounding area. Hardin said she took every workshop Hallie Barrett taught after joining. She said the better painters in the club do demonstrations and the club has traveling instructors come in as well. The club members also attend state conventions. Mrs. Hardin has attended conventions in Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas. During the conventions, artists present demonstrations of the craft. She was the president of the Arkansas State Convention in 1993 when it was held at the Jonesboro Holiday Inn. This year's convention will be held in September in North Little Rock.

Mrs. Hardin has taken steps to improve her skill and learn more about her craft outside of the club. She bought three libraries on china painting after their owners retired. Mrs. Hardin also attends two workshops a year. She said the workshop fee for a day is $250 per group.

Mrs. Hardin now has five kilns. A kiln is an oven in which ceramics are baked to harden the clay or to seal paints and glazes on a piece. This process is called firing. She said the first firing on porcelain bisque is 2300 degrees for 12 hours at 30 amps. Porcelain clay shrinks by one third in size during the firing process. Mrs. Hardin said ceramic does not shrink that much because it is a different kind of clay.

She spends part of each day painting. Most of Mrs. Hardin's pieces are decorative. She paints a few practical pieces, which include salt and pepper shakers, sugar and creamer sets, and hot pads. Larger pieces of art, like platters, plates, and vases, go to family members. She said, "I sell mainly eggs and rabbits to defer the expenses of my expensive habit." Mrs. Hardin said she sells some small boxes as well.

The subjects of her paintings are Victorian style. She mainly paints items that come from nature such as birds, fruit, and flowers. Mrs. Hardin said she does some "Dresden" which is a painting style that is made up of small flowers. She paints some of the eggs using the "Dresden" technique. Mrs. Hardin said that if you make a mistake you can remove it very carefully with acid. She said, "A lot of times I'll correct something when my time might be better spent doing another piece." Mrs. Hardin continued by saying, "I don't like to fail on something - to let it whip me."

Mrs. Hardin pours her own eggs and rabbits. She said most china painters do not pour their own porcelain. Most buy ready-made blanks. Limoges pieces are the most expensive. They come from France. She gets some of her blanks from Japan, Germany, China, Brazil, and the Czech Republic. She said the blanks from China are the poorest in quality and pieces from Brazil and the Czech Republic are of a fair quality. Mrs. Hardin orders her blanks from big importing houses in the U.S. including importers in Dallas, Maryland, and Michigan.

Elite people in America painted china during the late 1900s. Mrs. Hardin said most big stores carried white china for painting during that time period. She said that she was given a plate her mother's next-door neighbor of 25 years painted. Mrs. Agnes (Sloan) Mock, who was formerly of Imboden, painted the plate before 1920. Mrs. Mock gave the plate to Mrs. Hardin when she left her home. Mrs. Hardin said, "At the time I was doing ceramics, and I was very glad to get it." She also added that the tools for china painting have improved greatly since the early 1900s. "We have really good teachers now and better paints and supplies," she said. However, many colleges do not teach china painting, most teach hand throwing of clay using a potter's wheel.

She has abandoned ceramics for the most part except for making baskets. Mrs. Hardin said porcelain is a cleaner medium and is easier to work with due to the use of blanks.

Mrs. Hardin has become an expert painter. She no longer needs a pattern on her pieces. Mrs. Hardin said, "When you start at first you need a pattern, if someone's helping you they can see where you're going." She doesn't have to draw on the pieces anymore, she just paints. "You learn to do your own thing after learning all the flowers," she said. Mrs. Hardin said that sometimes she takes notes from other artists for inspiration, like the way they painted a leaf or a bloom. "There's no limit to what you can do but your imagination," she said.

As she paints a piece, it may be fired in the kiln multiple times. Most pieces are fired at least three times, but some are fired as many as six times. When Mrs. Hardin applies a layer of gold to the piece, she fires it twice to set the gold. As the piece develops, she adds more color to it to give it dimension. For example, she adds more color to the center of a flower to give it depth.

Mrs. Hardin said, "It relieves stress to do something creative. You can lose yourself in your creation." She also uses her pieces as gifts. Mrs. Hardin said that her mother encouraged her to try anything. In the past she has built wooden boxes and she has even built a kiln. "So many people are afraid to try something for fear of failure," Mrs. Hardin said.

Mrs. Hardin is an alumnus of Rector High School and the sister of Mrs. Glenna Bookout of Rector, who is the president of the Rector GWFC Woman's Club.

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