Monday, December 11, 2017

Paper Mache Totem Pole

"Lowest man on the totem pole" is a phrase that implies that the most important symbols are placed at the top of the totem pole, but this is not always the case. In fact, if you have a tall totem pole (which can be 30 feet tall) than the "lowest man" may get the most attention as it is at eye level and may be wider to support what's on top.

Nine of my high school students made an couple of equal opportunity totem poles out of paper mache a few weeks ago.

They had completed their ceramic totem poles using several  different animals the previous week, so they were familiar with the symbols. This assignment required them each to choose an animal to represent him or herself.

We started by building 6'-7' poles of cardboard, taping cereal boxes, pie tins and parts of bottles to form beaks, eyes, noses and fins.

Paper mache was added to the under structure. We dipped strips of newspaper into a bowl of fabric starch to layer onto the surface. I taught my students to pull the paper strips through two straight fingers to "squeegee" the excess liquid.

At least five layers (probably 6-7 large bottles of starch) later, we were ready to paint the surface with black latex.  Students used chalk to draw the designs on their animal on the dry underpainting. Then the poles came to life as colors were added. We stayed with the primary colors plus white and brown to keep it traditional and visually unified.
It was well worth the two weeks to turn reusable "trash" into large collaborate art pieces, which will last for years.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ceramic Totem Poles (Part 2)

Totem poles are not idols nor objects to ward off evil spirits. They are stories told with symbols. They may honor a family, commemorate a life, or,  they are may be used to shame someone (say a CEO or ambassador) for wrong doing.  The poles are carved from tall cedar trees from the Oregon and Washington all the way through British Columbia to Alaska.

To read a totem pole, one must know the meaning behind each animal.  A wolf is a symbol of loyalty and intelligence, a frog represents wealth and good health. Salmon symbolize determination and perseverance. Killer whales are powerful and can offer food and help to tribe leaders. An owl is wise and may symbolize a deceased family member. A bear is strong and was believed to teach people how to fish and gather berries.

My high school students used slabs of clay to wrap around cardboard rolls and create their own totem poles. I encouraged a lot wiggle room for the shrinkage that comes from drying, so the tube could be removed. After a bisque firing, they each glazed their animals.  For the students who did every animal separately, we hot glued the pieces together afterwards, and it seemed to work pretty well. (Time will tell how long it will hold).  These ended up being a little over a foot in height, which was about twice as tall as the mini poles that the younger students made. We were so excited to pull them out of the kiln yesterday it was fun to see them standing side by side.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

mini totem poles

 November became the month of the totem pole in my art room. Thanksgiving doesn't have much to do with the indigenous people of North-Western U.S., but it is a nice time to remember that there were people living in this country before Europeans settled here. Plus it's an important part of the 3rd grade school social studies curriculum.

We discussed the purposes and types of totem poles and the people who made/make them. Then each elementary school student made his or her own, by making small animals and shapes and poking a pencil through them.  Dick Blick has a lesson plan with air dry clay and dowels which I'm sure would have worked better, but we had a lot of regular clay and so that's what we used. The problem is to remember that clay shrinks and when the hole shrinks it will be nearly impossible to get it off your dowel or pencil before firing in the kiln. So we removed the pieces before they hardened (after having let a few dry and breaking them off), but then it was a matter of finding a small enough dowel to stack them on after the kiln firing.  It was a pain trying to get each student their own pieces (hundreds of tiny animals in the kiln), but it helped that there was a name on each one and that I took a picture of each finished pole before disassembling it for the drying and firing. Again, the air dry clay on dowels would have been much easier, but I think they still learned what I'd hoped they would learn, and the products turned out to be pretty cute.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sock Puppets

Sometimes, as teachers and parents, we are so busy searching for new ideas to keep our kids engaged that we forget the old standbys, like making sock puppets.

For our sock puppet project, each student created a character, complete with gender, age, name, and personality traits. They chose from stacks of felt, feathers, plastic eyes, foam shapes, pompoms, and pipe cleaners to make the face and hair of their character. I stood by with a hot glue gun awaiting their orders on what to glue where.

Then they wrote short skits with a dialogue between two characters, which they later performed for the class. We made a quick theater by cutting a hole in a cardboard box and taping fabric to the top of the hole. My classroom became a safe place for students to be silly while learning about puppetry arts, character development, dialogue and script writing. Play is the work of childhood after all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wreath Ornaments

String buttons, beads or bells on wire; close the circle, add a bow, and you've got yourself a wreath ornament for the Christmas tree.  It's the holiday craft that even small children can do.

Other versions of the craft open up once you are old enough to work a glue gun. When my kids were little and I didn't have much money for decorations, I made wreath picture frame ornaments of far flung family so my children would remember their aunts, uncles, and cousins. I started with clean concentrated orange juice can lids. Construction paper on the back, and front (minus a hole for the picture), and red ribbon around the sides to cover the metal and disguise the metal base. Then I hot glued buttons around the edge.  For some other family members, I cut a back and front out of felt, glued it down and stitched the edges with red embroidery floss. Red buttons looked like big berries and red bows and loops finished it off. It was a weekend project that has brought 16 Decembers of enjoyment since. Simple or elaborate, wreath ornaments are gifts, gift toppers, or memory keepers.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wire and Bead Ornaments

It is almost December, which is the time of year for ornament making and for fundraising. Last year my students and I made wire ornaments to sell.  I made the basic shapes (star, heart, Christmas tree, dove) from 18-gauge wire, and then offered them beads, pipe cleaners and plastic coated wires called Twisteez,  to twist and zig-zag across the base structure. The more they made, the easier it became for them. I sold them at a community market for $2 each, sent some to Atlanta for another sale, and kept some to sell during our student show. We threw ourselves a pizza party with the profits which made the whole process twice as fun. Try making some yourself. After all,  a little craft and whimsy make for great therapy during this hurried season.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Whirligig Interdisciplinary Lesson

When I asked elementary students at the beginning of the year what kind of things they wanted to make, the most common answer was,  "Fidget Spinners!" Long before the current toy sensation, though there were other kinds of spinners, toys like tops yo-yos, and and whirligigs, so I decided to do a history lesson that included the original Fidget Spinner, as part of our color theory unit.

I began by talking about pioneers crossing the country in their covered wagons or handcarts. Can you imagine moving and having to fit all of your family's possessions in to one car? What if you could only take one thing, what would it be? I shared my childhood road trip game: If I Were Going Across the Plains" We went around the class, and each person filled in the blank, "If I were going across the plains, I would take a......"   I explain that the word they chose is a direct object. The first person then tells what they would do with their object. "I would eat my food." Then we we go around the group with each person using the same verb as the first person, but keeping their original direct object. "I would eat my hat....I would eat my book.....I would eat my sleeping bag" The second person then chooses the verb that makes sense for their object, "I would put my hat on my head." and continues, "I would put my book on my head...." This lead into a discussion about how few toys would be allowed to travel, and what kind of toys the pioneer children actually had.

The type of whirligig, that pioneers used,  is a small, wooden disc with two holes on either side of the center point. and a piece of twine. This is threaded through both holes like a button and tied together at the other end. By holding the ends of the twine loop in two hands and moving the hands in small circles like you would jumping rope, the twine becomes twisted to the point that the hands move closer to the disc. Once the hands are slowly pulled apart, the disc spins and as the hands relax, the disc winds itself up in the opposite direction. So by pulling and relaxing, the whirligig can spin for minutes, or until the string starts cutting off the circulation in your fingers. I used a role of masking tape as a template to trace the circles--wood is much easier to spin, but a couple cardboard circles hot-glued together can work too. The holes are about a thumbs width apart and the string should be about a yard long (18" after it's folded it in half).

Since we've been studying the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), and the fact that two primaries mixed together make a secondary (orange, green, purple), the students were to pick to primaries for each side of their whirligig. They could do spirals, dots, stripes, star bursts etc. as long as the colors remained separated but close together. The two primary colors visually mix into a secondary color once the whirligig gets spinning.  Playing my childhood game, sharing my pioneer ancestor stories, painting, and spinning whirligigs--there are days my job is so enjoyable that I can hardly believe I get paid.