“Bobblehead” Madonna For The Divine Sister

Sunday June 24 the Stage West company struck the set of “The Divine Sister” after the matinée performance.    My last responsibility for the production is to return the borrowed items: a street lamp to DMMO and an oversized bench, a bicycle, and a tea set to Theatre Simpson (both in Indianola).  Meanwhile, I wanted to share the design process for the Madonna statue that is integral to the plot.  As I shared in the preceding post, having run across the image of the bobblehead Madonna and Jesus while casting about for a design “hook” for the figures in the stained glass, I was compelled to introduce a similar style into the Madonna statue.


The excerpt from the technical drawing to the left shows the initial concept.  My plan was to begin with a standard Madonna figurine and to craft an enlarged head for it of paper mache.  To create the drawings, I imported PDFs of a figurine photo and the Madonna bobblehead figurine into the VectorWorks file.   I used known dimensions of an available Madonna statue  to scale the Madonna JPG and used the 2D Polygon drawing tool to create the line-work.

After securing the statue from a local garden center, I set about fabricating the paper mache head.  I began the process by securing an inflated 8″ toy ball from a local Wal-Mart.  I covered this with a  layer of  paper mache created with overlapping strips and shreds of newspaper  glued in place with Elmer’s white glue.  Even though I would eventually need the bottom of the head open to mount it on the statue, I coated the entire ball.

Next, I began building the features up on the paper mache ball with a papier-mache product called “Claycret”, using sculpting tools to create the features.  After roughing in the face, I hot-melt glued an apron of bristol board to create the foundation for the veil head-cloth.  This was the first time that I used this particular product.  I found that it dried slowly, requiring 24 hours (a mixture of direct sunshine and a fan overnight) of low humid conditions to dry.

The face and veil required 5 or more applications of Claycret for me to achieve the depth and level of detail owing both to the product’s inherent low threshold of adhesion and to the highly dimensional shape that required sculpting.  Even after I was satisfied with the sculpting, I was not pleased by the cottage-cheese texture that seemed to be the natural state of the Claycret product.  I began rectifying that with a skim-coat of  common joint compound.

Fearing that the dried joint compound would crack, I brushed on a couple of coats of thin-mixed Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty.  This product dries quickly and in my experience, is “rock-hard” when dry.  because of these characteristics, it only took a day to apply 3 coats with light sanding between each.  In addition to creating a hard smooth surface, I was able to add additional fine detail with the Water Putty.

My next challenge would be to find a spring to create the Bobble-Head action.  The spring would need to have firm action and an open structure.  By coincidence, I had repaired one of the sprinklers in the irrigation system in my front yard.  I chanced to take apart the broken unit and discovered an ideal spring within the mechanism.  The spring was a little too long for my application, but I was able to trim it to the appropriate length with a common bolt-cutter.

I affixed the spring securely to the head of the purchased Madonna sculpture using a 2-part epoxy putty that I found at the local Big-Box home improvement store.  This product contains a central core of one part wrapped in a thin layer of the 2nd part.  To activate it, one cuts an appropriate volume off the “stick” and knead it thoroughly for about a minute.  Once activated, it can be adhered and shaped for 5-10 minutes before it loses workability and begins to cure.

I cut open the bottom of the ball that formed the foundation of the papier-mache bobblehead, pulling out the deflated plastic ball.  I also cut a short section of the base of the sprinkler housing and used more epoxy putty to affix the cap on the inside of the papier-mache bobblehead.  This acted as a socket positioning and holding the head in place atop the Madonna statue.   In the photo to the left you can see the sprinkler-housing through the enlarged opening in the bottom of the head.

Both the statue and the papier-mache head were painted using the primary, secondary and earth-tone paint described in the preceding post.

The resulting sculpture took about 2 weeks to complete and was barely finished in time for 1st tech.  While most of that time was necessary for drying-time, I put about 20 hours of actual labor into the sculpting and painting.

Bobblehead Madonna reinforced the images from the stained-glass and helped to create a unified “world” for the play.


Bobblehead Madonna is visible to the extreme left of the production photo of  The Divine Sister above.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!



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