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Forming ideas

Nine-hundred pounds of clay seems like a lot, but after it's distributed among all of the students taking art classes at Newport Elementary School over several projects, there won't be much left over, said Mary Olson, art specialist.

Olson received a $1,500 grant from Northern Clay Center and she is making good use of it.

Last week, sixth-grade students worked with terra cotta clay to create reclining human-like figures.

They learned how to make facial features with noses that aren't too big for the faces. While doing so, they are learning about proportion.

"Use the clay to 'suggest' a nose," Olson said.

By working the clay with their hands, they notice how long human legs are when compared to arms, for example.

Understanding proportion is just one of the things District 833 students are learning this school year due to the introduction of art specialists in 14 elementary schools.

Having completed their first clay projects in January, students are getting savvy about working with clay, Olson said.

They know how to use tools to shape objects. They also know that "scoring" makes a lump of clay stick to another piece already on its way to becoming a piece of art.

"The more details you add, the better," Olson told students, suggesting they might add headphones to their figures. She also showed them how to fashion a baseball cap. "Don't worry about getting it perfect."

"I'm going to make a baseball cap," said Eric Smith back at the worktable.

"Without the teacher, I wouldn't have learned any of this," Smith said.

"It's fun," said Sabrena Breisler. "But it's really hard, too."

"I thought it was going to be easy," said Zach Lagoon. "But it was kind of hard."

Clay projects are very expensive, Olson said, so the grant makes a difference in how many clay projects the students can do.

Next, students will make clay tiles, each with a letter of the alphabet, which will be on permanent display at the school.

After students finish projects, the Northern Clay's "Claymobile" comes to the school and picks up artwork to be fired in its kilns and returns it to students. After students add glaze, projects are picked up and fired again.

Olson plans to write another grant request to pay for clay projects for the 2008-09 school year.

Finished student projects are on display at the school.

For more information about summer camps and other Northern Clay activities, go to

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600