Friday, November 29, 2013

CYOA: Effigy Pots

Each year the art teachers in my school district choose a different part of the world or culture as a K-12 focus. We try to get other departments involved as well for interdisciplinary connections. The efforts culminate during Cultural Heritage Week- a week of speakers, performances, and a K-12 art exhibit. This year our focus has been Native American cultures. Since I had already decided to experiment with choice based art instruction at my intermediate school, I used the "Choose Your Own Adventure" method that I tried out with 5th grade when studying fibers last spring. I came up with several open-ended ceramics projects and each student choose a direction. 
*We only get to do one clay project a year, and this was the first time I ever started the year with clay. I'm not sure if that was the best idea or not, but other than probably 15% of the projects going unfinished, it went pretty well. The students only have art for 40 minutes every other week so their projects have to be built in one day. Since new choices were introduced in following classes, not all students finished their clay (painting with tempera and varnishing) in the second class, and several never got around to it, eventually taking projects home unfinished.
Choice Menus for Native American Inspired Ceramics Projects
I'll be posting about each route, in no particular order. I'm not even going to try to set a timeline because I will not likely be able to stick to it. Two kids at home on a single parent schedule keeps me a lot busier than one kiddo! Anyway, up first are Effigy Pots.
Here is what my research has turned up:  An effigy is a representation of a specific person, especially in three dimensions. Head Pots/Head Jars are one type of effigy pot made by members of the Mississippian tribe. The pots have been found in parts of Arkansas and Missouri. The pot or jar takes the form of a head, usually representing someone who was dead. The eyes are most often closed and the teeth often show as if the tissue is gone. The function of the pots is unclear- it's possible they were "trophies" to represent enemies or that they were a representation of someone who was important or respected (Encyclopedia of Arkansas). I've also found effigy pots that represent animals instead of people.

Other sources
The most common technique students used to make their effigies was starting with a pinch pot, making impressions in the clay with their thumbs for eye sockets, and adding on other facial features. The biggest issue came from students building the pots in their hands and not remembering to check the angle of the face when the pot was sitting.
There were many different interpretations of the assignment. Some students made holes for the eyes and some added them on. Some students experimented with turning their pinch pots upside down to make a hollow head form.
A few students took the animal effigy route. Are cats as popular with your students as they are with mine? One student asked to make an effigy mask instead of a pot and we found that toothpicks worked well for whiskers where clay would have broken.

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