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.