Magazine article School Arts

Clay Masks

Magazine article School Arts

Clay Masks

Article excerpt

Sixth graders in the Montgomery County Public Schools study Africa as part their Social Studies unit. It is always a challenge to integrate their studies with an African mask project using clay. Young students love working with clay--a medium which is too often avoided in elementary school art programs.

The entire mask project took about four class periods. (I allotted a fifty-minute class to the fifth and sixth graders. This includes a ten-minute cleanup.)

The First Class

I began by showing slides on African art and culture. I also use a chart on African symbolism and showed several original masks.

We talked about the masks and the students made a list of African art characteristics and concepts. Some simple ideas are:

1. symbolic, geometric (abstract) motifs

2. repetitive designs and textural patterns

3. animal, mythical figures, human beings

4. bas-relief (not completely three-dimensional)

5. materials used (Africans use mainly wood--we used clay)

6. influence on twentieth-century artists such as Picasso and Modigliani

I used examples of various stages of clay masks: (a) greenware--dry but not yet fired; (b) bisqueware; (c) fired with additions of beads, shell, bone, raffia, feathers, coins, bits of glass, etc.

I gave each student two sheets of paper and they designed four African masks. They chose the best design, and made it larger. They cut out the finished mask shape, and used it in the next class to lay on top of a clay slab.

Second Class

I demonstrated the clay slab project, flattening the clay with a rolling pin. We used canvas covers on the tables with rags under every slab of clay. The stencil was placed on top of the clay and the lines were transferred through the paper onto the clay with a sharp pencil. The eyes were completely cut out to give a mystical effect. …

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