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Wet and wild. (Clay corner).

Teaching advanced art to 30 children, ranging in grades K-5, in an art-enrichment setting was a challenging task. We needed a project that involved using advanced techniques, yet would accommodate the less-developed fine motor skills of our younger students. We also would settle for nothing less than a real "wow" project, one that the students and their families could enjoy for years to come.

As we pondered this dilemma, it dawned on us that we were sitting by a spectacular water fountain at a local business center. We noticed how the sound of moving water brought a sense of relaxation and tranquility to the environment. Whether it is a quiet stream or an exuberant fountain, the sight and sound of moving water tends to reach a peaceful place that exists in the core of our being. Dancing water is a real stress reliever. Stand next to a moving body of water and you will always come calmer and more focused.

Then, as if inspired by the creative energy of water, we knew exactly what we would do: We would build tabletop water fountains using progressive hand-building clay and glazing techniques. The fountains could be created with a simple design or with a high degree of complexity, depending on the students' capabilities. In addition to providing the students with an art lesson in clay techniques, these fountains would bring the students and their families many years of serenity and enjoyment.

Water fountains have been made by many cultures throughout time. Fountains of all sizes have been used to induce a feeling of peace and harmony in communities. What better contribution can we hope to offer with our art than the creation of a harmonious setting?

We presented the project to our multiage group, and have never seen students tackle a task with such energy and enthusiasm! The creativity flowed from each child and the overlapping and sharing of ideas for variations was striking. Age differences were of little consequence. The planning that took place truly involved higher-level thinking skills. The students visualized how the fountain would work, and predicted how the water would flow over their design and how it would sound spilling over the lily pads.

This project was a big success. The children enjoyed the process every step of the way. The entire group made gains in their ability to visualize, plan and execute a three-dimensional design. We, as teachers, were inspired by the amount of creativity in these sessions. The parents have been raving about their fountains ever since.

"When my daughter Cara brought home the frog fountain she made, I connected the pump and added the water," said parent, David Baker. "Throughout the evening, I found myself looking at the fountain again and again, saying over and over, `What a neat project!' The fountain has become a part of our kitchen and we enjoy plugging it in each evening and listening to the water fall over the lily pads."

Try this project with your students. We're sure that teachers, students and parents will all find the experience extremely beneficial for mind and spirit.


* Other objects can be used in place of the frog (for example: fish, flowers or alligators).

* Study the work of Isamo Noguchi, a Japanese-American artist (most well known for his minimal stone sculpture), with a focus on his fountains. Create fountains with large geometric shapes in the Noguchi style.


* One small aquarium pump *

* Enough aquarium tubing to cut a 4-inch section for each student

* Four 5" x 5" x 1/2" slabs ** of clay (vessel)

* One 4 1/2" x 4 1/2" slab of clay (vessel)

* Two circular slabs, 3 inches in diameter (lily pads)

*One 1" x 5" strip of clay (spacer)

* One 5" x 11" slab of clay (coupling)

* One fist-size ball of clay (frog)

* Clay tools, especially pointed scoring tools

* Glaze, either gloss glaze or underglaze will work well

* Paintbrushes

* Water buckets

* Plastic bags to cover clay if not completed in one class period

* Pump can be purchased at an aquarium or home-improvement store, or ordered from a wholesaler. We bought online from Greystone Creations (

** All slabs are 1/2-inch thick.


1. After the planning stage, each student was given five slabs of clay. (The smaller slab was used for the bottom piece.) The slabs were scored and slip was added to the edges to form an open cube and to make sure the edges were completely sealed. This cube formed the vessel. It may be useful to flute out the top lip. This will allow for the water to flow down into the vessel and prevent splashing.

2. Students decorated the sides of the vessel with three-dimensional clay objects that were scored and slipped on to the outside of the vessel. Some of the students made cutout edges that shaped the open side of the vessel.

3. To create the coupling, which serves to protect the pump and hold up the lily pads, bend in the long slab of clay to form a tube. Cut two mouse holes out of the bottom to help with water flow and allow the plug to exit.

4. To create the lily pads, pinch out the circular slabs of clay. Make sure to pinch one slightly larger than the other. Place a 1/2-inch hole in the middle of each lily pad for the tube to pass through.

5. The spacer should be made using the 1" x 5" strip of clay. Bend in the ends to create a small tube and score the ends together. Connect the spacer to the top of the larger lily pad by scoring and adding slip.

6. The frog can be made using the pinch-pull method. Experiment with different methods. The legs can be pinched out, as well as the eyes. The students might need additional clay to add on to the legs if they can't pinch out the appendages. After the frog has been completed, each student should use a pencil to put a hole directly through the body of the frog that exits out through the frog's mouth. This will allow for the water to bubble and flow out of the mouth.

7. After the clay has been fired, the students should glaze the inside and outside of the clay pieces, paying close attention not to glaze the bottom of the pieces.

8. Glaze-fire all of the pieces.

9. To be sure that the fountain does not leak, leave water in the vessel overnight.

10. Assemble the pump, place it in the vessel, attach the tubing piece to the pump and slide both lily pads and the frog over the tubing. Fill with water and adjust the flow valve on the pump until the water flows out of the mouth at the proper rate.

11. Now sit back and enjoy the tranquility of your own fountain creation.

Note: In humid climates, it may be necessary to seal the bottom of the vessel with a sealant to avoid condensation buildup under the fountain.

Karen Barmore is the art specialist and Jane Kemp is a teacher at Gorrie Elementary in Tampa, Florida.
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Author:Barmore, Karen; Kemp, Jane
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Previous Article:Art on wheels. (Children's art diary).
Next Article:Editor's note.

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