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Columns in clay.

Our sixth-grade students study world civilizations, including Greece and Rome. In one way or another, so much of our present-day architecture comes from the classical interpretation of columns and lintels. Since I have a personal fascination with architecture, columns in their many forms seemed a great subject for; learning architectural history.


It also occurred to me that making small clay column capitols would be a wonderful way to learn slab construction techniques. I have found clay projects are often richer and more complex if students draw our subject matter first, so this clay project became a drawing lesson, as well.



We began by looking at photographs and diagrams of the three orders of classical columns: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Students became excited as they recognized these forms in their own homes, as well as in other buildings in our community. We even observed the structural form of the columns in our school, although they are constructed from reinforced concrete and are quite plain looking.

To instill these architectural images, students drew their own variations of the three classic columns, remembering to include spirals, acanthus leaves, fluted sides and any number of added creative improvisations. This was an excellent lesson on three-dimensional shading, and the use of line to delineate form and decorative detail. I found the drawing and discussion consumed about two one-hour classes.

Next came the excitement of clay, as we built small models of column capitols. The children were delighted to see examples and realized the finished product could be a fabulous stand to show off a small treasure. Flipped over, end up, the capitol could function as a vessel or "holder."



Students started by rolling a slab between two quarter-inch dowels using a rolling pin. They quickly recognized this method produced a uniform thickness of clay. A 2" x 5" rectangle and a 2-inch square were cut using pin tools and cardboard patterns. The rectangle was wrapped around half of a precut toilet-paper tube, which afforded stability in building. Slip was used to join the rectangular slab ends and to attach the square top. A quick but thorough demonstration of this building process was essential.

Finally, using various tools, more slip, coils and pinched or cut attachments and textured areas, the capitols became wonderful sculptural pieces. I have found this work can be completed in a focused one-hour class.

Once fired, the cardboard tube turns to ash, and colored glazes were added to enhance each piece. The finished columns made an especially impressive showing in our school display cases, to the dismay of the artists who really wanted to take immediate possession of their great clay creations.


Middle-school students will ...

* learn architectural vocabulary and history

* understand the importance of classical architectural forms and their influence on today's architecture.

* use shading and line in drawing to create volume, interest and symmetry.

* learn techniques of slab clay construction.

* learn to add decorative elements to clay surfaces.


* Diagrams and illustrations of three column types: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian

* Drawing paper

* Pencils

* Low-fire white or buff clay

* Low-fire glazes

* Assorted clay tools

* Toilet-paper tubes

* Cardboard for patterns

Robin Leenhouts is a K-6 art teacher at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
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Title Annotation:ARCHITECTURE in the ART ROOM; learning architectural history using clay columns for middle school students
Author:Leenhouts, Robin
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Feb 1, 2010
Previous Article:Forget the glaze.
Next Article:Painting with clay: a study of the masters.

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