Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lesson (UNIT) 7: Ceramic Scuplture: "Mini Totems" and "Retablos- personal shrines"

Introduction to Ceramics: Grades 11-12

In this class, I worked with the students to throw on the wheel and create coil and drape mold projects. However, I was able to develop my own unit on sculpture! This was a 3 week unit (which kind of went into 4, overlapping due to firing schedules) discussing 3 dimensional form, relief carving, additive and subtractive sculpting techniques, and also, of course, including a brief discussion on various types of sculpture.

The first project I gave them was to help them start to
think about ceramic sculpture in nonfunctional and symbolic terms. This first project was
inspired by the Totem Poles! In this, the students were to create a Miniature Totem Pole, using 5 characters that represent someone in their Clan. For example, they could
represent the members of their family, their friends, their classmates, etc. And of course, they needed to have one piece that represented themselves. In this project, students were introduced to some historical and
demographic information and images on Totem Poles as well as symbolism and design
qualities. In this practice project, students explored symbolism to represent the individual members, while practicing additive and subtractive sculpture.

For the BIG project, students applied their new knowledge and skills to create slab Retablos. These are portable altars reflecting each student's identity inspired by the Peruvian Retablos. Here, students used slab construction to create the "shell" and then used low and high relief carving as well as additive sculpture to convey their identity using symbolism or a narrative.

After they were fired once, we chose acrylics to paint the Retablos. Acrylics were difficult for most students- and we only had 2-3 days to paint the retablos because of timing at the end of the year. I could definitely see myself using this lesson again, but for a longer time line for students to really develop the conceptual side to these pieces.

Here's what some students created. Enjoy!


  1. Great idea to use artistic symbolism to represent their clan as well as themselves later on. Plus, some great connections to social studies and history!

  2. Love this one as well! Would love to see some progress photos if you have any!