My name is Jane Hansjergen. I am one of the Member Artists at the Elk Grove Fine Arts Center. This year, I have been teaching art to Laura Barrett’s 6th grade class at Edna Batey Elementary school. It is such a thrill to be able to display their Ceramic Animal Sculptures as part of the Art Center’s Community Art Display Program. Their work will be on display for the month of May and the first two weeks of June. Ten of the students were able to attend the First Saturday Reception held May 3rd, and discover how exciting it feels to be an artist, with work on display in a professional gallery.
For this ceramic project, each student picked a favorite animal from one of three categories: pet, farm or exotic. They could choose to create a small animal sculpture in one of three styles: realistic, caricature or abstract. Each sculpture started with a one pound ball of clay which was molded to show three dimensional bone structure, to which features, texture and other fine details were added.
As the students worked, they learned the correct techniques for handling wet ceramic clay. This included: How to gently stretch clay without tearing. How to roll clay without overworking it or drying it out. How to join sections of clay by scoring the clay to roughen the edges, to correctly apply slip to the joints and to join the sections smoothly without air bubbles. And, how to add fine detail and various types of texture to their pieces. As the clay dried to a leather hard stage, the students learned how to smooth and refine the surface and joints of the sculptures.
After the sculptures were completed, they were dried and fired in a low temperature kiln to become bisque ware. The class then came to my home to pit fire their sculptures. The pit is simply a hole in the ground that is used as a firing chamber. The pit’s interior reaches temperatures high enough to create a variety of smoky finishes.
The students decorated their animal sculptures with a selection of materials: coffee grounds, banana peels, rosemary leaves, bay leaves, mint leaves, copper wire, copper scrubbers, steel wool, salt soaked moss, and salted soaked string. Each piece was then wrapped in a single sheet of newspaper to hold the materials in place, and loaded into the pit onto a bed of sawdust and rice hulls. Shredded newspaper, kindling and wood were added to fill the pit and then lit. A hot fire was maintained for four hours, and then allowed to die down to coals. The pit was covered with a metal sheet and allowed to slowly burn for 24 hours.
The resulting finishes were dramatic and covered a wide range of black, grey, and red, with flashes of yellow, and orange. The students then cleaned their sculptures and used shoe wax to buff them to a high sheen.
This project gave the students the opportunity to “see with new eyes” and to discover what they could accomplish through great effort, concentration and creativity.
In addition to their animal sculptures, each student also glazed a tile which will eventually be displayed on the front wall of the Art Center as part of our Tile Glazing Fund Raiser. Please come on down to view the exceptional talent of these young artists.