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.
Children are always excited to work with clay. When we are going to make figurative sculptures, I channel their energy into the lesson by having them become living sculptures. I ask the students to pose as a figure they might be interested in shaping in clay.
I also encourage the students to consider making a self-portrait by asking what they enjoy doing: Playing baseball? Reading? Playing with a pet? Once the students have “struck a pose,” I ask them to notice how their body, elbows and knees are positioned. Throughout the lesson, they may need to become a living sculpture again to solve problems they’re having with making their sculpture look right.
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As a closure, I ask the students to once again become a living sculpture, allowing them to judge for themselves how successful their finished piece is. But it is obvious to me how they feel about their work. The students’ pride shows in the way they carefully wrap the little sculpture with tissue and tape to protect it on the way home to show their parents.
Craig Hinshaw is an elementary school art specialist in Michigan. He is the author of Clay Connection: Innovative Ceramics Lessons that Make Connections to the Elemtary School Curriculum & Seasonal Calendar available atwww.CraigHinshaw.com.