The Sundance - a 120mm vignette produced by Ray Brown Design
I first bought this kit at Euro Militare in 1999 and chose it for my first attempt at finishing a kit 100% in acrylics. Over the next two or three months I completed the kit only to be completely dissatisfied with the results; in my view acrylics are too "bright" and very "flat". Convincing blending of tonal values is also very difficult to achieve, so after a small accident when the kit was knocked over and completely demolished I decided to start from scratch and rebuild and repaint, this time using my favoured oil paints.
I first saw this kit advertised in "Military Modelling" several years ago by a company that is no longer trading (the name escapes me) and was both delighted and surprised to find it on the Ray Brown Design stand. The kit itself consists of two figures, the "Sun dancer" and a drummer, the Sun dance pole, a rifle, Buffalo skull, a warriors medicine shield and a base all cast in white metal.
Although the kit is quite expensive (approx $77 at time of purchase), the price is lower than purchasing two separate resin or white metal figures in the same scale and therefore represents reasonable value for money. The quality of the kit is not exactly top of range, maybe due to the age of the moulds, in any case the figures need a little work to sharpen details and some parts are better disregarded altogether. I will discuss building and painting in three distinct stages, each figure and the final assembly of the vignette.
The Sun dancer
The Sun Dance was a key religious ceremony in the spiritual practices of all the Plains tribes, even within individual tribes; the dance took on various forms. Having carried out some research both from books and the Internet I decided on representing a Sioux Sun dancer. The most significant thing that was evident was that this vignette would only be representative as normally several warriors were involved simultaneously.
I chose a Sioux warrior because they used red body paint, I did not feel ready for the challenge of painting an all white figure and some of the other body paint schemes were too brilliant to suit the scene. The Sun dance figure is easily constructed consisting of an upper torso complete with head and arms, two legs, a horse hair plume for the back of the head, a hair ornament and the back part of his breechclout. The figure's eyes are closed in either pain or meditation and at such times it was probable that the dancer would blow on his eagle bone pipe, therefore I removed the pipe cast on the chest and replaced it with a small medicine bag. The medicine stick held in the left hand was too heavy and was replaced with a piece of brass wire. The mouth of the dancer was drilled to accept his new pipe and a lower lip built up using Magic Sculpt. The figure as cast does not have a front section to his breechclout and although the rear cloth was thinned at the edges I considered it too short and a new front piece and a longer rear piece were made from thin brass sheet. The additional decoration worn at the front was made from Magic Sculpt. The warrior is attached to the pole by wooden or bone skewers inserted under the skin and although these attachment points are depicted I enlarged them slightly and inserted the skewers.
The figure was painted as follows; the head, arms and torso to the waist were painted red. I used Windsor and Newton's Cadmium Red as a base colour and used Cadmium Red Deep, Burnt Sienna and a slight touch of Burnt Umber for the mid, dark and very dark shadows, each colour being sparingly applied and well blended wet on wet. The highlights were picked out using Scarlet Lake and the lightest highlights were initially done in Titanium White which proved unsatisfactory, Flesh Tint proving to be a better solution, again all colours were well blended wet on wet. The natural flesh tones were achieved by a mix of Gold Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Titanium White, (the proportion of Burnt Sienna being slightly higher than what I would use for a Caucasian), painted over an undercoat of Humbrol Matt Leather. The breechclout was painted in a mix of Gold Ochre and Titanium White with a hint of Cadmium Yellow added. Hair (including the horse hair plume) was painted black and highlighted with a very thin coat of Titanium White with a little Prussian Blue added. The horse hair plume was, as in reality, painted red, I chose to glaze with Cadmium Red so that the underlying black was still dominant. The face, arms and legs then had religious markings painted on in black. The hair ornament was painted in sacred red and the centre picked out in bright green red and blue to simulate beads.
The figure does not include a few things, which I think improve the figure, a garland of sacred herbs and willow brush is held in the right hand (a piece of brass wire painted sap green and covered with a commercially available "leaves"). A garland was also placed around his head, wrists and ankles.
This figure consists of an upper torso, two arms and two legs, a drumstick and drum (incorporating the left hand). It is depicted sitting cross-legged beating the drum. This figure needs painting before much construction can be carried out because of his pose. I began as usual with the face, I was immediately struck by the fact that the figure was too "European" in appearance, and my sculpting skills being virtually non-existant I had to seek another solution - that turned out to be war paint. By choosing a dramatic war paint I hopefully disguised the fact that this figure does not appear particularly "Indian-like". I bit the bullet and decided on a white face with a red band. I carefully blended very small amounts of my base flesh tone into the areas below the cheekbones, on the temples, beside and below the nose, corners of the mouth and under the chin, a tiny amount of Burnt Umber was blended in at the side of each nostril and below the lower lip, the rest of the face being left pure white. The red band was highlighted and shaded as per the Sun dancer.
The joints between the arms and torso need quite a bit of filler but otherwise the other joins are well hidden. I thought the buckskin shirt would benefit from the addition of beaded bands on the shoulders and arms and these were fashioned from Magic Sculpt and painted in typical designs and colours. The drumstick was discarded, as it was also a bit too thick, a new one was fashioned from brass wire and Magic Sculpt, ribbons (thin brass sheet) being attached to the end. The drum could also do with replacement as it just does not look quite right, but as I said, I am not up to producing a new hand, which is integrally cast, so I compromised by using the kit part. His hair was slightly reworked to accommodate ribbons and eagle feathers.
The base, which comes with the kit is adequate but gives the vignette a crowded feel, so it was also consigned to the bin. After a suitable base was found, the pole was erected having been suitably painted in browns. The Buffalo skull could be painted and fixed in place as it is cast, but I decided to embellish it slightly, the eye sockets were filled with thin pieces of fuse wire, painted green, and liberally covered in "leaves", the horns were given a very thin but irregular coat of Magic Sculpt to simulate a cloth covering on the horns. The skull was painted an off white shade and shaded with Gold Ochre and Burnt Umber and highlighted in pure Titanium White. The horns were painted in stripes on blue and ochre and the skull finished off by depicting various religious symbols and pictographs.
The warriors shield looks nothing like any Native American war shield I have ever seen and at best looks like a tambourine, it was scrapped and a new one fashioned out of Magic Sculpt. The rifle is quite good and was painted using Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna for the wooden parts, Windsor and Newton Pewter for the barrel and bronze printers ink for the tack pattern on the stock. The whole gun was given a thin wash of Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue when dry. The religious symbols attached to the pole were fashioned from Magic Sculpt, the ribbons from thin brass sheet, they were all painted and attached and the whole scene put together. In reality dancers were attached by two figure eight loops at the end of hide tethers, in my case I used silk thread.
I found researching the Sundance fascinating and attempted to depict the ceremony in a way that was truthful but vivid. The kit certainly shows it's age in terms of the sharpness of the moulding and basic inaccuracies but it does provide the basis for a very dramatic piece and one certain to catch the eye in any collection.
With patience, a really striking vignette can be produced and with a little skill (remodelling the hand/drum etc.) an excellent model would result.
I recommend the kit with some reservations, but still consider it value for money. It is available from Ray Brown Design or at Laundry House, Bowhill, Selkirk, Scotland TD7 5ET.