Integrating Clay into the classroom-Part 4

MeANS Week 5/6 of Integrating Ceramic Arts

Thanks for checking back on our progress. As you may know this is a 6-8 week interdisciplinary art class. We are integrating ceramic Arts into Math, Science, and the Humanities curriculum and will be presenting our work to some younger students in either late November or early December. The public is welcome to attend and details will be provided at a later date.

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

By far the most natural combination for me is working in the Earth Science class. We also get a 2 hour time block and that really helps! As ceramic artists we are taught to use different compounds and elements in our clays and glazes. When I was learning about geology and using local resources I was driven by the practical use and need for what I was learning.  So when Emily Gribbens and I were planning this week’s lesson we knew that we wanted

Mixing up our batch of clay gathered from campus

Mixing up our batch of clay gathered from campus

the kids to mix up the soil samples that we found earlier on campus and create a usable batch of clay. This way the kids would have the knowledge to recreate this experience if needed. It also gave them a chance to get their hands dirty and understand a little more about types of clays and why we use them in a very ‘hands on’ way. Understanding soil composition, geology, and sources of materials can help them in any number of sustainable occupations.  The added bonus was a review of percentages and ratios as we discussed our clay body recipe. I’d say that they were truly engaged in this messy lesson!  Once we had finished mixing the clay and it sat for a week we were able to create tiles. The tiles we made were representations of Maine’s geological formations. Students created glaciers, land formations such as eskers,

wedging the new batch to make it workable

wedging the new batch to make it workable

kettles, drumlins and kames, present day ocean levels and levels from 12,000 years ago. We covered 2-d design elements as they created them using colored (artist created!) maps from Maine’s Geological Survey. They also prepared for their presentation creating poster boards and photos of clay digging and mixing.

Tiles made representing glaciers, kettles, eskers, and other geological formations

Tiles made representing glaciers, kettles, eskers, and other geological formations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Ceramic Sculpture we continued our exploration of slabs and coil construction. Some students reviewed and critiqued earlier attempts and recreated stronger more viable

Student work-

Student work-

structures. Others explored textures, carving, sprigging and stamping techniques. We worked on figure, shape, design, textures, gesture and form. We reviewed some design elements and principles. We now have posters hanging on our ‘clay art’ room walls and will do more research of other artists in the following 3 weeks.  Students are preparing themselves for a presentation of their work. During which we will discuss setting up a show and the way in which objects can communicate. The work varies greatly in this class from very accomplished to beginner and is a good representation of the student body at MeANS. Some students have never touched clay or had access to art classes of any kind and others have a great interest and have built up skills over the years. Despite these differences the class works well together and supports and each others progress.  We all agreed that ceramic sculpture class could last all day long and that would be fine with us. There is a nice harmony in the room as we work together. It offers a quiet reflective time in our busy day and as artists we need space to foster our creativity.

In Math class we worked on color choices and patterns of coloring for our tile tessellation

brushing on slips and clear glaze

brushing on slips and clear glaze

project. We discussed mathematically working out our design as opposed to eyeballing it and the benefit of working out designs on paper before committing to colors on tiles. We explored what happens when you flip shapes and how difficult it is to create a tessellating design with complex structures. Students learned terms such as ‘bone dry’, glaze, and under-glazes as they painted each individual soon to be fired tile. This has been a favorite project among students and is sure to draw attention when it is grouted and hanging in the school.

We made each tile individually from a template that we created. We measured, drew sketches, played with all types of shapes and tessellating patterns

Tiles in a tessellating pattern using color to manipulate the plane

Tiles in a tessellating pattern using color to manipulate the plane

  
another variation of tessellating tiles and shifting patterns

another variation of tessellating tiles and shifting pattern

until we came up with our final design on the left. We had to make some choices as a group and fit all of this into a 20 x 20 square. We had to account for clay shrinkage and grout lines as well as make it visually appealing. All the while being mindful of the math standards we were meeting. This was a very challenging project and the kids were engaged and interested. Some of them even stayed behind during a lunch period to help finish when it ran later than expected.  I know they are anxious to see it finished and will be proud when it is hanging in the hall.

Loading the pit firing

Loading the pit firing

In Humanities we completed decorating our coil vessels with a refined white colored slip (Terra Sigilatta). We also made a red slip from the clay that was found on campus and students added the red (green before firing) slip designs onto their painted white pots. We learned about burnishing to make the white slip polish and students looked at Pueblo Pottery for design inspiration. Students made many geometrical patterns and designs accenting the shapes of their vessels.  We truly worked as a community with no one pot being made by any one person. We shared coiling, designing, painting, burnishing and the firing process. Even the kiln building was a group effort. We fired our vessels in our fire pit kiln that we made a few weeks ago. You can see us loading and unloading our pots. This is one of the most memorable and exciting parts of the project. There was no guarantee that our work would survive this process. We loaded saw dust and wood shavings, dried wood scraps, newspapers, and wood that we found in the surrounding area along with our pots into the fire pit. We lit the fire then continued feeding the fire until we had a good build up of coals.

a display of our pit fired vessels

a display of our pit fired vessels

We covered the fire partially to keep as much heat in as possible and continued to feed so that the temperature would continue to

Just one of the many pieces we fired using ancient techniques

Just one of the many pieces we fired using ancient techniques

rise slowly. After a few hours, we covered the pit entirely so that the pots would continue to fire throughout the night and then slowly cool.  The next day we unloaded the kiln. Students were excited as we had no idea what might have happened during the firing. We could have had breakage, pots damaged from the heat or from the weight of the wood. Any type of firing is risky, this kind is exceptionally risky for breakage, not reaching temperature and uneven temperatures throughout the kiln. We were pleasantly surprised to find that damage was minimal and the areas where the white slip was burnished and subjected to the carbon build-up had turned a deep shiny black. All of the pots had a smoky finish with the designs painted below coming through. As Emanuel Pariser, the director of curriculum and instruction, put it ‘These look like dream objects’.  Indeed they do, they also represent a way of learning about ancient cultures and bringing that education to life.  These students will also be preparing for their presentations and writing about their experiences.

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

Again, I can’t thank the Maine Arts Commission enough or MeANS for allowing me to come in and work with the kids. I am already searching for the funds to do this for a longer period of time next year. If you are interested in supporting more of this type of education please let me or the school know.  hallowellclayworks@myfairpoint.net or  www.gwh.org

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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