Sunday, April 04, 2010

Clay Totem Poles with Kids

by Eleanor Hendriks

I had the opportunity to teach a clay elective at my childrens' grade school recently. I had a group of 11 children from grade one to grade eight. The age spread kind of freaked me out and I decided to deal with it by doing two projects -one for the older kids -4 boys from grade 6 and 8, and a different project for the 7 children from grade 1 to 3.

The project for the 4 boys was to make a totem pole using slabs and a Pringles can. Since we weren't at my studio with access to my oh-so-handy slab roller, the boys got to roll their own slabs using rolling pins, 1/4" slats to control the thickness and canvas sheets to keep the clay from sticking to the slick school tables. You can see the basic method for making the pole form in this castle tutorial.

I handed out pictures of traditional totem poles and talked a little about the symbolism of the creatures and different design elements. I would have loved to get into this in more depth, but I was juggling the younger kids' project at the same time, so this got short shrift. They sketched out their ideas on scrap paper for a few minutes and then got busy on their creations.

I had the boys divide their poles horizontally into sections to accommodate the number of creatures they planned to make and I asked them to make any elements that would stick out further than a couple of inches first so that they could set them aside to stiffen up before attaching. Even so, some pieces required clay props to keep them from sagging while they dried.
Because I hadn't done this project with a group before and didn't know how long it would take, I had them work from the top down, in case they ran out of time before accomplishing all the creatures. I explained that they could put more creatures in using paint during the second session.

During the second session they painted their poles with underglazes. I encouraged them to look again at the traditional totem poles and make note of the amount of design work executed in paint. I gave them pencils to lay out some design work on the pieces before they began with the underglazes. I was impressed with the amount of time and focus the boys (yes, I said BOYS!) put into their painting. And I have to say, the results are fabulous -don't you agree?

Sorry, no photos of the process, I was busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I'll show you what the younger kids made another time...

(Is OK that I am inordinately proud of the creator of the last totem pictured? It was made by my eldest son...)
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