In the late 1960s, Richard Serra, working in the context of new sculptures being made by Robert Smithson and Carl Andre, turned to lead sheets as a material. Previously, he had made wall reliefs and floor sculptures from flexible materials which, when hung or piled, adopted organic shapes created by gravity. They showed the process of their making but relied on the installation of the work for their effect and had a pictorial quality he wanted to avoid. In a search for a pure definition of process Serra turned to lead. He had written, in 1967, a list of verbs to describe the act of making which began "to roll... to crease...to fold... and included "to splash... to droop "and "to suspend". He wanted a material that was easily manipulated and that would retain the process of his actions with it: he chose a common building material (comparable to Andre's fire bricks) and began to develop process pieces in which he tore the lead into strips and left them on the floor of the gallery or melted the lead and splashed or threw molten metal into molds (often the join between the wall and the floor), displaying a series of casts as the finished work. He was searching for a means to make works in which the implications of Jackson Pollock's 'over-all' non-compositional paintings, works that eschewed conventional pictoriality, could be realised in sculpture. What he ended up discovering was a method of working that marked the single most important development in his work. the principle of propping as the dynamic component of the sculpture. He told Bernard Lamarche-Vadel in 1980 (in Richard Serra Writings and Interviews, Chicago, 1994, p.114) "I realised that lead, with its low order of entropy, was a gravity bound material that I could configure through hand-manipulation on the floor. ...in short, I began to tightly roll sheets of lead. The series of lead rolls was made from lead sheets. I realized that I was making one form, the lead roll, and I wanted to combine it with the other form which was the sheet. It occurred to me that the roll could be used as a pole and the sheets could be propped from and off the wall without utilising a joint. "
A group of these works were exhibited in 1969, (fig. X) showing the variations of the propping principle, and using the thin sheets that Serra had chosen for his torn sculptures. He developed other works which use the thin sheet to make the rolled prop and a thicker sheet of a hardened lead , in this case with antinomy,which is more stable, for the propped element, as here. These are the direct precursors of One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969 which established the vocabulary for much of Serra's later work. Steve Reich, the composer recognised a similarity with his music, "The analogy I saw with Serra's sculpture, his propped lead sheets and pole piece was that his works and mine are both more about materials and process thatn they are about psychology." (in Richard Serra /Sculpture, New York 1986, p.24). Rosalind Krauss wrote "In Prop the process was a function of the relationship between the two elements of the piece, working against each othr in a continuous labor of elevation. It was in this constantly renewed tension, active within the object at each moment, necessary to the very prolongation of its existence, that Serra located a special aspect of his vocation as a sculptor." (R. Krauss,"Richard Serra /Sculpture", Richard Serra /Sculpture, New York 1986, p.20)