Saturday, January 3, 2009



Divine Inspiration
Being the only visual art teacher for a secondary program in a small private high school I was always racing around for ideas that would grab the students' attention and also introduce a range of concepts. Many of the students had little experience with art materials especially ceramics.
Introducing wedging, pinch and coil techniques, attaching with slip, creating texture, plus clean up is always challenging especially when students have short class periods and go into it thinking that it is "Play with Clay" time.

If truth be told, I usually planned my units only after I knew who were enrolled the classes. I found that tailoring my curriculum made it a right fit for the most part and our class sizes were relatively small (5 to 12 students from 9th to 12th grade). It was time to introduce a ceramics unit to the 3-dimensional design foundations class and I wanted a fresh idea. For my birthday I had indulged myself with several lavishly illustrated art books from Assouline Publishing, one of them, African Forms: Art and Rituals by Laure Meyer, yielded a kernel of an idea. An image of an anthropomorphic vessel from the Luba Tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo really grabbed my attention. Pottery is usually produced by women and men create figural sculpture. These vessels possibly combined the work of women and men working collaboratively!

I could not find a lot of information or examples but I looked at the usual sites for examples such as the Museum of African Art here at the Smithsonian and several other online sites and museums. The students and I were fascinated by the idea that these vessels were made for the purposes of divination. According to Belgian ethnologist, Albert Maesen, "...this type of anthropomorphic pottery was used by royal diviners to identify and cure illnesses. Occasionally the spirit provides information touching on a crime or some other misfortune." The diviner would place charm inside the vessel.

Because scarification was a form of body art practiced by tribes the figures needed to have texture and pattern. We used high fire stoneware and applied iron oxide as well. The top figure is the exemplar that I made and then pit fired.


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