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IF YOU WANTED TO USE ONE OF THE ceramic ashtrays my seventh graders recently made, you might find it perplexing. The cigarette would have to be placed on the top of a slide where it would then slip down into a pool of water. this ironic interpretation of form-follows-function was the result of a class project that deserves to be shared with others.

During several years of teaching ceramic classes at Arapahoe Community College, I've always imposed a ban on making ashtrays. This tends to put a temporary crimp in the expectations of many beginners whose hands seem to have a predilection for putting notches in any kind of ceramic disaster, thereby rescuing it from the recycling bucket. Rather than leave the class with boxfuls of mutated ashtrays, the "ban" encourages students to move on to more imaginative things.

But this year in my classes at Sheridan Middle School, I added a half-twist to this personal dogma, and came up with a winner: create an ashtray that would make smoking inconvenient or difficult, an ashtray that might make the smoker think twice.

Since the middle school kids had been receiving anti-smoking information for quite a few years in school, and many of them felt quite strongly against smoking, they jumped into the project with the intensity of crusaders. Almost every student immediately had a particular parent or relative in mind and began to fashion a clay contraption especially suited to that person. What resulted was a wonderful collection of wildly inventive ideas solidified in clay.

There was the "scare-them-out-of-smoking" school of thought: whatever creature most frightened the smoker--a coiled rattlesnake, long tailed mouse, or hairy spider--was lying in wait on the bottom of the ashtray. The "gross-them-out" technique included toads, gooey, drippy creatures and large noses with warts. The "no-more-room-at-the-inn" genre of solutions included ashtrays piled so high with clay cigarette butts and cigar stubs, they looked like the morning after a political convention.

A wonderful guillotine was fashioned so that the cigarette would rest right under the clay blade, and inside were the decapitated remains of former menthols and filter kings. And a smoker might hesitate to place a cigarette in the grooves of the ashtray with a suspicious resemblance to a bear trap, ready to snap.

Stark health warnings read loud and clear in a set of clay lungs for the deposit of ashes, and a "rib cage" in which a person's last cigarette remained locked away.

The students and I enjoyed this project immensely. It provoked an abundance of humor, inventiveness, zealous work and thoughtfulness, four ingredients I love to see "smoking" in my art-room!
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Author:Jantzen, Linda
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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