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The Pueblo storyteller.

Today there is an emphasis on intercultural studies in all public school systems. My school, Maryvale Elementary, has a racially and culturally diverse enrollment which makes this project not only exciting, but captures a little bit of that cultural curiosity that young children have.

My fourth grade students had been previously exposed to Native American art, so I chose a clay activity based on Pueblo storyteller ceramic figures for a continuation of this cultural study.

These stylized figures holding groups of children, depict the passage of stories verbally transmitted from one generation to the next. The booklet "Pueblo Stories and Story Tellers" by Mark Bahti is an excellent visual aid.

In preparation, each table is covered with canvas cut to table size. This simplifies cleaning at the end of class since the canvas can be removed, taken outside and shaken or the debris dumped into the trash can.

Each table of four students has a tray with the following tools (approximately two for each table):

* cutting tools (sharp pencils are fine)

* forks for scoring

* clay slip

* clay loop tools

* wooden modeling tools

* sponges

* cans of water

Before class, approximately fifty pounds of clay is cut into 1/2 pound squares with a wire and placed in separate plastic bags. Students are given their own trays to carry and store the works in progress. They should scratch their names on the bottom of the dolls, as confusion could result if clay projects are not identified. A damp sponge placed in the bag and wired shut will keep the project moist. Two class periods are usually needed.

The students start out by making the doll's body out of a solid cylinder. I put holes in the bottom of the cylinder before it dried, to aid in quicker and more even drying. The cylinder is rolled and patted into shape. Next, the head is manipulated into the form and attached by scoring and slipping. The legs and arms are rolled (coiled) and attached by pressing the center of the coil into the body after scoring and slipping, then bent forward towards the front of the body. Feet can be formed by pinching. The same method is used for the arms, eliminating the need for making four separate attachments which increases the chance of potential breakage.

I demonstrated the use of a small extruder for hair, which is not a traditional aspect of the storyteller doll. If hair is to be attached, slip should be applied to the head and the hair gently pressed. It remains fragile and should be done last. The mouth is easily impressed in the clay with a pencil.

The smaller figures can be made by making a smaller coil, then pinching the clay to form the head and arms. After that, a sharp tool can be used to spread the clay slightly to indicate the legs. Caution: If the smaller figures are not carefully attached to the larger one, they could become separated in the kiln.

We used underglazes after the dolls had been bisque fired to cone 06. Three colors: turquoise, brick red and black were used; the white of the clay adds a fourth color. The clay is still porous at this point, and the underglazes often have to be thinned with water. Remind students that these dolls are three-dimensional sculptures and should look well designed front all sides.

The entire doll was coated with a thick layer of transparent glaze and then fired again to cone 06. All transparent glaze should be wiped off the bottom of the projects as this glaze will melt and the doll will adhere to the kiln shelf.

The clay was allowed to dry thoroughly (approximately two weeks). Firing partially dry clay is usually the reason (not air pockets) projects blow up! Again, don't forget to put holes in the damp clay project for even and quicker drying. After bisque firing, the final classes were devoted to underglazing and then transparent glazing.

The results were beautiful, and our storytellers were exhibited both at the annual Wheaton Elementary Art School Fair in Maryland and at Maryvale Elementary.

This project could be carried further into Social Studies or Writing units by having actual stories written for the dolls to tell!

Debbie Stern teaches art at Maryvale Elementary School, Rockville, Maryland.
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Title Annotation:Pueblo Indian ceramics as classroom project
Author:Stern, Debbie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:717
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