Monday, October 26, 2015

Weaving on Handmade Looms

Native Americans are master weavers and well known for their beautiful woven rugs and blankets. They wove on upright looms using cotton then later wool. The weaver sat on the ground in front of the loom. Not only did Native Americans weave for practical purposes but it was also a form of artistic expression as well. 

Today weaving is done on a loom and is dressed with a warp (strings that are vertical). Depending on the type of fabric or motif desired a warp can be very complicated.  Weavers have to plan carefully before they put the warp on the loom so that the design they are trying to achieve can be produced. The filling yarn (the yarn that goes across the warp) interlaces with the warp and creates fabric. 

I took a weaving course at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for a semester. It gave me a strong appreciation for woven fabrics. I experienced putting warp yarns on a loom and using fill yarn to make a piece of cloth. It is a long process and very difficult. I like to incorporate weaving into my art curriculum because I believe it is an art form children should be familiar with. In addition, weaving is great for fine motor skills, understanding over and under and alternating. In order for the material to stay in place the yarns need to interlace. The interlacing locks the yarns into place. If all the yarns are woven without interlacing they will fall out of the warp. 

I like using a variety of materials for the filling because it creates texture and looks interesting. I generally use recycled materials for the filling. I made the looms using sticks I found near my home. I notched the bottom piece of wood so it would cradle the stick laying on top. Hot glue holds the sticks together. I also wrapped a Pipe Cleaner around each corner to insure that the loom is sturdy.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Art Birthday Parties

I am excited to announce that I am available to lead an art activity at your child's next birthday party. Together we can customize an age appropriate art activity that will engage your child and their friends. Every child will leave with a completed project. My 90 minute rate includes art materials for up to 12 guests. Please contact me if you are interested in information regarding my rate and availability. 

Using Symbols in Art

"Me swimming in a river", age 5
Today, people communicate regularly through a variety of mediums. Sharing stories and ideas with each other has become easier and more sophisticated over time. In the past, expressing emotions, feelings and ideas was a lot simpler. 
"A rainbow with a cloud and rain with my friends", age 6
Native Americans used symbols to document their lives. Basic images and geometric shapes were used to tell a story. I showed the girls in my private small group art class a few symbols on a the sheet of paper below that I thought were easy to decipher. The girls identified them with me. Then I told them to draw me a story using the symbols we learned or create their own symbols. Their drawings incorporate some or all of the symbols we reviewed together. I was not sure how the pictures would turn out. I was happy to see how nicely they used symbols and the joyfulness in their pictures. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015


This week our exploration of Native Americans continues at the private small group art class I am teaching in Scarsdale, NY. The artifacts I display at each class - pouch, moccasins, and necklace - all feature intricate beading with brightly colored beads. They are real life examples of objects that the Native Americans used in their everyday life. The artifacts also highlight how important beading was to the Native Americans as well as how good they were at beading. Native Americans used a variety of materials for beads like: shells, coral, wood, stones, metal and animal bones, and teeth. Beads played an important role in the Native American culture. For example, they were used during ceremonies, to mark milestones like a wedding and for currency.

Natural wooden beads and shells were used for this beading project. Pipe Cleaners replaced cord because thy are easier to push through the bead's small holes. Pipe Cleaners also can be made longer by attaching an additional Pipe Cleaner as well as easily twist close. Native Americans used shells as beads and possibly collected them nearby along the Bronx River. To give the girls a more authentic experience I told them to imagine they were a Native American girl who had to find shells on the Bronx River. (Prior to the start of class I had scattered a few shells outside so the girls could collect them.) Instead of going to the Bronx River I led the girls outside to search for shells. Everyone found a few shells and brought them back to the work table. Once the girls were settled in their seats I gave out a handful of the wooden beads for the girls to color with markers. 

I observed some girls using more than one color marker on a bead. I also noticed that they were coloring the natural shells. I would have preferred they kept the shells natural but this was their project and it is important to support children's creative decisions. The girls spent the entire class time beading. A few made two projects - a necklace and a bracelet. A steady stream of chatter persisted throughout the class. The girls had fun talking about their beads and shells. I sent everyone home with a quart size bag filled with extra beads, shells and Pipe Cleaners.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pinch and Coil Pots

This fall I am teaching art to a small group of young girls who range in age from 5 to 6 years old in a private home in Scarsdale, NY. Our theme for the 5 week art course is Native Americans and the art projects are inspired by the Native American culture. The classes will introduce the children to a variety of art mediums and techniques while also giving them information about Native Americans and how they lived.

At our first class I asked the girls what they knew about Native Americans. They knew that Native Americans lived here a long time ago and were the first people to live in this area. They knew that they lived in tents (tepees) and houses (Long houses) and could name some of the materials Native Americans used to build these structures. I brought artifacts - moccasins, a leather pouch, and a beaded necklace - for the girls to examine. I also brought books with me so I could show the girls pictures. The books were also used to help me introduce our art project. This week we made pinch pots and coil pots using clay. 

Native Americans initially used pottery for practical purposes. They covered woven baskets with mud clay and hardened the mud over an open fire. They used pottery to hold water, grain and seeds. Early types of pottery were pinch and coil pots. For practical purposes our clay came from a store and I used Crayola's Air Dry Clay in white. The clay was soft and had a nice plasticity. The girls began by wedging the clay. The children kneaded the clay with their whole hand. By wedging the clay the children are evenly distributing moisture, eliminating hard spots, and forcing out air bubbles. This process also makes the clay easy to work with. Once the clay was wedged the girls made a ball out of the clay by rolling the clay between the palms of their hands or by rolling the clay on the surface of the table with their palm. I showed them how to hold the ball of clay in their helping hand while they stuck the thumb on their opposite hand into the center of the ball. Then the girls gently pressed their thumb around the center to widen the opening. As the girls worked I saw pinch pots of various sizes and shapes forming. They all had a bowl! Next I told them to turn the pinch pot back into a ball so we could make our coil pots. Once the balls were formed they made a slab by pushing down on the ball of clay with the palm of their hand. 
To make the slab into round bases the girls used round tops from canning jars. The children made coils by rolling the clay on the surface of the table with their hands. I showed the girls how to score using a clay tool and emphasized how important it is to score both sides of the pieces of clay they are joining together otherwise the pieces may not stick together when the clay dries. Slip is made up of water and clay. Slip is used to moisten and smooth clay but can also be a good binder between two pieces of clay that are being joined together. I instructed the girls to add slip where they are joining their first coil to the slab and the coils to each other. The pictures above show the final results of our coil pot class. One little girl made a tiny spiral coil and attached it to the larger single coils. This active and outgoing group of girls all know each other from their neighborhood and school. This gathering was as much a social time as a learning time. 

I incorporate art terms often when I teach so that my students not only gain hands on skills but language skills as well.

Clay Vocabulary: