Magazine article School Arts

Red Figure Black Figure

Magazine article School Arts

Red Figure Black Figure

Article excerpt

The sixth grade students truly enjoyed the full-body experience of creating large-scale papier-mache vases. This project was a wonderful way to introduce the sixth grade to figure proportion, sculpture with recyclable materials, and ancient Greek art. The project also served to reinforce their World History unit on Ancient Greece.

Initially, the art class participated in an art history discussion, looking at examples of early art and historical artifacts including cave painting, and Egyptian, Babylonian, and ancient Greek art. One student noticed that in many of the earliest works of art, animals were a main focus.

An Array of Subject Matter

In Greek art humankind was the most important subject because the power of human intellect was seen as superior to animals' physical strength. This led to an investigation of ancient Greek art and culture through the study of red-figure and black-figure pottery. As the sixth grade looked at examples of Greek pottery they realized that the vases pictured the stories, events, and cultural developments they had studied in their World History classes. All the students could find subjects that appealed to them from Olympic and military competitions to drama, epic poetry, literature, music, and the Pantheon.


Since traditional Greek vase styles were often chosen according to the subject the vase would depict, the students' first step was to select an image from Greek history or literature that most interested them. Popular choices were the Battle of Marathon, the Olympic Games, and legends from Greek Mythology.

This was a great opportunity to review figure proportion. Students learned that an average adult human being is 7 1/2 heads tall and they measured me to check that theory. They found that my forearms, feet, and head were all the same length. In fact, all body proportions are in relation to one's head size. Practicing correct body proportions, students sketched their figures in action poses depicting their chosen image.

Forming the Vessel

Using masking tape and recyclable and discarded materials (i.e. cans, yogurt containers, cardboard tubes, crumbled newspaper, etc.), students sculpted solid forms over which their papier-mache vases would be molded. I explained that there was no right or wrong way to sculpt these forms, they were to experiment with the recyclable materials and share their sculptural ideas with classmates as well.

Their vase forms were versions of traditional Greek vases such as the hydria (water jar), the tekythov (oil flask), krater (wine bowl), amphora (storage vessel), kylix (drinking cup) and oenochoe (wine jug). I encouraged the students to work largescale, creating vase forms at least 18" (46 cm) tall. This often meant that they needed to stand while working, making use of their entire body while sculpting.

The Papier-Mache Process

Next, the solid form was covered thoroughly with plastic wrap or used plastic grocery bags. (Later in the sculpting process the plastic would enable the students to separate the papier-mache from the solid vase form. …

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