Each year, Hiller Elementary School’s student council (K-5) selects a project to do for the school. Two years ago, under the guidance of second-grade teacher Diana Skiles, they decided to make a “peace pole.” They envisioned a wood pole with the word “peace,” painted or inscribed in various languages on it. This would have special meaning for Hiller because approximately a third of the students come from diverse ethnic background representing more than twenty countries.
Figurative ceramic sculpture has a rich tradition. From China’s ancient life-size ceramic army to Viola Frey’s contemporary grandmother figures, artists select clay as a means for expressing the human figure. I’ve found elementary-grade children just as enthusiastic about shaping figurative sculptures, although on a smaller scale, as ceramics artists from the past to the present.
A fourth-grade teacher asked if her students could make small monuments using clay. They were studying the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty and I believed that the Statue of Liberty suggested a wealth of ideas. Almost half the students at Hiller are of diverse ethnic origins and come from more than twenty different countries. While I doubt few, if any, arrived by boat and were greeted by the Statue of Liberty, as were immigrants from past generations, this icon still represents the ideals of freedom and opportunity to the rest of the world.
This project helps students utilize alternative methods of designing ceramic tile and learn the history behind the patterns; tiles can be displayed as a class ultimately.