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.
During the student council’s monthly lunch meeting, I presented the idea to the students. The students who knew how to write “peace” in their language did that. All the students drew pictures of images they felt would convey the idea of peace—birds, rainbows and flowers were popular.
Step 1. At the next meeting, I brought 2-inch × 2-inch squares and 2-inch × 4-inch rectangles of rolled-out clay. Using sharpened pencils, the students inscribed their selected words and pictures into the clay. I slowly dried then bisqued the tiles, so the students could glaze them the following month.
Step 2. One of the parents volunteered to prepare the 4×6 pressure-treated wood pole, for the tiles. (For an 8-foot pole, allow for 2½ to 3 feet below ground.) He routed a ¾-inch deep area that was 4½ inches wide and 24 inches long. He also beveled the top of the pole to a point and fabricated a protective and decorative copper top.
Step 3. After gluing and grouting the tiles into the routed recess, I dug a hole with a post-hole digger, and used one bag of concrete to secure the pole in front of the school.
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Words of Peace, Images of Peace
We held a dedication ceremony on Flag Day, and the whole school body assembled around the flagpole and said the Pledge of Allegiance. Then they turned to the covered peace pole. A member of the student council read a poem expressing their hope of peace and then the paper covering was torn off, revealing the colorful tiles. As the students lined up to go back into the school, each student walked by, touched and admired the tiles.
My first outside mural did not withstand Michigan’s winter. Moisture got into the glaze’s tiny fissures and when it froze the tiles began disintegrating. After discussing the problem with numerous clay artists and clay companies, I have successfully completed three outside murals over the past three years and none have shown any signs of deterioration.
I used Laguna Clay Company clay (#66 WC610 and their Moroccan Sand cone 5 glazes. Their ceramic technicians suggested a test for tiles that are intended for outside use. Boil then freeze a test tile repeatedly, essentially aging the tile. Color over the “aged” tile with a black Magic Marker, then wipe off the marker. No black crazed lines should be visible. Check with your clay supplier about equivalent clays and glazes.
When mixing the grout, Grout Admix Plus (or equivalent) needs to be used instead of water to prevent frost damage. Finally, a grout preservative is applied over the grout after it has dried completely, further sealing it from moisture. Check with your local home center about suitable additives and preservatives.
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 at www.CraigHinshaw.com.
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