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Sesquicentennial Ceramic Summatives, eh? | Arts & Activities
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Jan 2018

Sesquicentennial Ceramic Summatives, eh?

Sesquicentennial Ceramic Summatives, eh?

To celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, we asked students to think about Canadian citizens who have made a difference, and to create a unique clay figure where their likeness and achievements could be creatively linked in a sculpture.

There certainly is no shortage of Canadians that have made significant contributions, and the class had no trouble arriving at a wide variety of subjects for their sculptures—that included athletes, performers, scientists and artists.

For this assignment, there was an important research component and students were encouraged to use the school library and their smart phones to find a reasonable likeness they could capture in clay, as well as a visual inventory of significant images. The students proceeded to fill their sketchbooks with drawings and then were asked to create a series of 6″ x 8″ linear collages of the images they thought best represented their subject.

Students were then given two pieces of linoleum and asked to carve their line art collages into this surface in the same manner they would to print on paper.

These blocks would be used to make impressions on clay slabs that would form the front and back of their ceramic sculpture. Most of this grade-11 class had some printmaking experience, and were aware that images would have to be reversed—especially if any text was involved.

To facilitate the carving process, students were advised to use larger shapes and avoid tiny details. After the carving was completed, a 3/4-inch slab of clay was carefully pressed into the linoleum block and then removed. Happily, the soft clay picked up every detail carved into the block. Slabs were left to dry between two pieces of drywall to near a leather-hard stage and then carefully attached to each other with a slip and a clay coil using a cardboard triangle for support. At this stage, arms were also attached and reinforced with clay coils

Heads were fashioned in the traditional manner using modeling tools, and needed to be hollow, which helped when attaching them to the figures. When the time came, they were carefully attached with slip and a clay coil to the co-joined ceramic slabs. A small hole was placed strategically in the back of the head to ensure no air was trapped.

This was a multi-faceted project. First came research, then the sketching of designs. Carving linoleum blocks and pressing them into clay, students’ designs were transferred onto the slabs. Color was applied with watercolors.


One impressive sculpture was Lauren’s portrait of Lawren Harris. She fashioned her design after one of Harris’ iconic arctic canvases. Her piece is featured on this month’s cover.


After bisque firing, most students elected to use layers of watercolor to finish their portraits, as this provided the greatest degree of control. Students had also observed how the Canadian ceramic artist, Joe Afford, had used this method of applying local color with a great deal of success. The clay portraits were sealed with a semi-gloss spray.

The class picked an eclectic mix of outstanding Canadian figures from a wide variety of occupations and disciplines. The impressive results were indicative of the time each student invested in properly researching their subject.

A few stand out from the rest: Sir Sanford Fleming, created by Julia, is credited with the invention of Standard Time. She chose a clock motif for the body of her sculpture, which is also armed, with a copy of Canada’s first postage stamp, also credited to Fleming. Her portrait likeness of him is terrific.

Huda chose track and field star Bobbie Rosenfeld, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1928 and was Canada’s female athlete of the first half-of the 20th century. She later became an esteemed reporter with the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The most impressive sculpture is the portrait of renowned Group of Seven landscape painter Lawren Harris, by Lauren Johnston. She fashioned her linoleum block after one of Harris’ iconic arctic canvases.

Harris has been recently discovered by American audiences through the patronage of comedian Steve Martin who co-curated “The Idea of the North,” a much-publicized show of Harris’ work in Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto. Lauren’s clay portrait of her namesake is unmistakable and the inclusion of a large paintbrush is a perfect finishing touch to this remarkable project.

Other Canadian figures included Jim Carey, Celine Dionne, Tim Horton, Wayne Gretsky, Sir Frederick Banting, Ellen Page, Rachel McAdam, Terry Fox and Seth Rogan.

The carved linoleum blocks and a few prints taken from them were included in a “Canada 150” display at our annual art show. The work received rave reviews for artistic merit, as well as for the research component that each student had completed.

People were able to look at the figures and could determine who they were by the iconography and decorative elements that were carefully invested into each piece. 

Sir Sanford Fleming: Credited with the invention of Standard Time. Julia chose a clock motif for the body of her sculpture, which is also armed with a copy of Canada’s first postage stamp, also credited to Fleming. Her portrait likeness of him is terrific.


Sir Frederick Banting: Medical scientist, physician, painter, and Nobel laureate noted as the co-discoverer of insulin and its therapeutic potential.



Roger Yate Stanier: Microbiologist who was influential in the development of modern microbiology.


Singer Celine Dionne.


Bobbie Rosenfeld: Won an Olympic gold medal in 1928. She later became a reporter with the Toronto Globe and Mail.


Terry Fox: Athlete, humanitarian and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated due to bone cancer, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research.



High-school students will …
• create sculptures of famous Canadians to celebrate that country’s 150 birthday.
• assemble visual inventories of images that reflect their subjects’ achievements.
• carve black-and-white compositions into linoleum.
• prepare a series clay slabs for impression.
• learn how to assemble a series of ceramic elements into a larger work.
• recognize how watercolor can be used effectively with bisque-fired clay.

• Sketchbooks, drawing media
• Linoleum printing blocks
• Linoleum carving tools
• Stoneware clay, clay modeling tools
• Watercolor paints, paintbrushes
• Krylon semi-gloss sealer

Arts & Activities Contributing Editor Irv Osterer is Department Head – Fine Arts and Technology at Merivale High School in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



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