It's Greek to Me: More Than One Hundred Different Types of Ceramic Vessels Were Used in Ancient Greece. the Shapes and Functions of the Pieces Varied. the Finest of These Vessels Were Always Decorated

By Vieth, Ken | School Arts, November 2005 | Go to article overview

It's Greek to Me: More Than One Hundred Different Types of Ceramic Vessels Were Used in Ancient Greece. the Shapes and Functions of the Pieces Varied. the Finest of These Vessels Were Always Decorated


Vieth, Ken, School Arts


Initially, forms were incised into the clay. In about 530 BC a method called the red figure technique was invented, whereby the forms were brushed onto the clay. The brush gave the artist greater flexibility, and in the ensuing years there was a more secure and natural handling of the human figure.

Scenes of daily life became popular, so there was an increased ease in depicting figures in a variety of poses. The result for us is a treasure trove of information about the life and culture of ancient Greece. This inspired me to develop this lesson in which students work together to create immense, three-dimensional "vessels" reminiscent of ancient Greek vases, and decorate them with images of their own culture using the copper repousse technique. Repousse is a method of creating a relief design by hammering or pressing into the reverse side of a metal surface. In French it means "to push back."

Introduction to Students

Begin by showing examples of ancient Greek vessels and explaining that their makers used images in their artworks that represented the culture of their time. Ask students to identify the kinds of images that are often repeated. What could be contemporary versions of these scenes? What images would best represent our current times? Ask students to be thinking about what scenes they will illustrate.

Making the Armatures

Work with students in groups to help them create large-scale linear wire armatures shaped like Greek vases. Use 18-gauge wire for horizontal circles and 24-gauge wire for the vertical connections. Strips of copper tooling foil can be added to look like the handles on ancient Greek vessels. Hang the armatures securely in the room so that students will have ready access to them.

Creating the Images

Have students sketch some images that represent today's high school culture and then each select four to develop on pieces of copper foil about four inches square. Ask them to place the copper squares on a pad of newspaper and then trace only the outline of their drawings onto the copper.

Next, have students add form and texture on the reverse side of the copper with low-level repousse techniques.

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