When the National Gallery of Canada held a Lisette Model retrospective, the image that was used to advertise the show was one of the artist’s Coney Island photographs. The curators had the image enlarged to fill the entire southern flank of the gallery. One could see the Rubenesque bathing beauty in all her glory a mile away. It left a lasting impression on this writer and on the nation’s capital.
Merivale High School’s ceramics program introduces students to the basic handbuilding skills. After building simple coil, slab and pinch projects, they are ready to embrace more complex assignments. With Model’s figure in mind, and summer on the way, I thought it might be interesting to create a beach scene—with each student supplying a different character for the collective.
In order to give a common thread to all the designs, and to reinforce introductory ceramic construction techniques, each project was constructed with two large pinch pots that were merged together with slip to form a large, hollow ball, and then slowly and carefully flattened on one side. For most students, the rounded side formed the stomach of each figure, while the flat side was used as the back.
The pinch-pot constructions were stored in plastic bags and allowed to dry a bit, while the class proceeded to consider arms and legs in a variety of positions, as well as a well-placed head in a series of drawings in their sketchbooks. Students were encouraged to check Internet sites to look at bathing-suit styles and patterns to incorporate into the final sculpture.
After students were satisfied with their composition and color choices, they returned to their ceramic workstations and assembled all the parts, carefully attaching each with slip.
One ambitious student even added a ceramic beach ball! Students were asked to drill a small hole in the hollow pinch-pot clay shape to allow gases to vent so there would be no explosions in the kiln.
Students used underglaze for fine detail while the clay was still in the greenware state and, after all the projects were carefully dried and bisque fired, a final coat of clear glaze was applied to each piece before a final trip to the kiln.
As impressive as each work was on its own, the sculptures had far more impact in their group setting. A sand environment was constructed and figures were carefully positioned on the beach. Students supplied small pieces of terry cloth to use as beach towels and colorful cocktail umbrellas were inserted into erasers and buried in the sand to sustain the tropical theme.
Merivale’s beach was a big hit at the City of Ottawa’s Young at Art competition and took first place in the senior ceramic category. The piece also drew rave reviews at our annual art show and was purchased by a local collector.
ENRICHMENT Students might also have the option of creating these characters as clay whistles, taking advantage of the hollow bellies.
By Irv Osterer is Department Head–Fine Arts and Technology, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.