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Plates from Around the World.

Midterm exams are a part of the curriculum in the Clay and Design class. Even though this course covers all the disciplines--art history, aesthetics, production, and art criticism--emphasis is basically on production. For the exam, I wanted to come up with an idea that covered one or more of the techniques and methods that the students learned the first half of the course. Techniques such as slab (soft and leather hard), coiling, press molds, underglazing (pencil, pastel, liquid), glazing, and, of course, the basics (wedging, scoring etc.) were taught. I decided that a clay plate created from a press mold and finished with underglazes and glazes would be a good starting point. The designs on the plates would be ideas/visuals from different countries and cultures, thereby making art history a part of the process.

Students used the Internet and the library to research countries such as Peru, Ivory Coast, China, and Italy. After choosing a country, they sketched their design--unifying the back and front of the plate.

Working in Clay

As their designs were approved, students created clay plates from the press molds that I previously made from plaster. They used red clay to roll out a slab approximately 1/4" thick. Using a damp sponge, students gently pressed the clay into the mold. We covered the mold and clay with a plastic bag and set it overnight to dry. The following class, students removed the clay from the mold, cutting off any excess clay, to reveal a plate. As the clay became bone dry, the students sanded the sides to perfect the circular shape of the plate and smooth the edges. Then we bisque fired the plates. Even though underglaze should really be added to greenware, I have found it best to bisque fire pieces before so that the students do not break their pieces while finishing them.

Transferring the Designs

Depending on the student's designs, they could choose from a few different methods to transfer their design to their clay plate. One option was to draw the design again using freehand. Student could use transfer paper as another option. Some students chose to cut their design apart and trace around the shapes, adding details by hand.

Finishing the Plates

Students used underglaze for the details in the plate. Most designs required the mixing of different underglazes. For example, to obtain a sky/cloud effect, students first painted the liquid underglaze on the area and then used the pastel and pencil underglazes to create the effect they wanted. Students used small brushes to get the small details just right. They seemed to really enjoy this part, for they took their time and wanted everything perfect. The pieces were fired again so that when the clear glaze was applied, the underglaze would not smear. Two coats of clear glaze was added and the pieces were fired for the last time.

Donating the Plates

Every other year, our school district's educational foundation holds an ARTS auction to raise money for scholarships awarded at the end of the school year. Items for the ARTS auction are donated from the various art programs in our district. The art department (K-12), technology department, home economics department, and music department donate to this cause.

Since the plates turned out not only to be a great success, but also functional (they can be used in the microwave, oven, or dishwasher and decorative, I asked all of the students to donate their plates to the auction. Even though the auction is a few months from mow, I've already heard students say that they were going to go to the auction to bid on their own plate!!


Students apply subjects, symbols, and ideas in their artworks and use the skills gained to solve problems in daily life.

Kay M. Reist is an art teacher at Elizabethtown Area High School in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Reist, Kay M.
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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