Students Trace Family Heritage With Ceramics
Posted 01/08/2019 12:07PM

Forming a special relationship with sculpture

by Alice Shih-Kahn, Upper School Visual Art

Katie Culham, Catholic & Canadian 2018 Clay

Inspiration comes from many different places. Writers, artists, and storytellers all know this to be true. In a studio setting, students are often given a prompt or topic in order to generate an authentic response. I use projects as one way to get to know my students, discover their interests, and help them find purpose for their art.

Country, culture, nature is an assignment where I asked Ceramics I students to form a special relationship with their sculpture. They traced their family heritage and religious beliefs, one, two or three generations back. Once that information was collected, students used online resources to find artifacts from those locations that were interesting, both aesthetically as well as symbolically.

During class, the students were tasked to go outside - they looked and drew directly from nature. Our daily routine often involves walking by and missing many beautiful things that grow and change on campus. Some students spotted a cluster of dandelions, a curved blade of grass, or a vine growing on a large old oak tree. When surrounded by nature, the options are endless.

Finally, it was time to put it all together. Before jumping directly into clay, it was important for me to explain the creation process. Although some artists are excited when they receive a blank canvas or a large piece of clay, many have the opposite feeling, instead, they are intimidated and overwhelmed. A planning drawing is a way to combat an artists' version of "writer's block" - imagine the shape, size and design before you begin.

Jill Wu, Grass on Vase, 2018, clay

Students were expected to incorporate two sources of inspiration: culture, religion, or nature. In addition, the sculpture itself had to demonstrate competency in clay handbuilding techniques: pinching, coiling, modeling and attaching.

Ceramics I is an elective, students choose to be in the course. With that in mind, I plan the course with time for students to play, explore and learn about clay. Projects and sculptures are provided with parameters for them to harness personal interests, master a new medium, and learn to think differently

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