Return to Headlines

The Chemistry of Clay

A certain kind of school assignment can open your mind.


That was certainly the case for Wells 8th Grade Makerspace students. In this case, the assignment was to create ceramic tiki sculptures with their own twist.


Art teacher Irene Othmer explained, “during the process students learned about low fire clay–the chemistry and properties of clay and firing in the kiln–and the additive and subtractive process.”


Using slab building and modeling tools, the students created tiki cylinders with themes which represented their own unique interpretations of an ancient cultural practice: Ice King, Clown, Warrior King, Chinese Teapot, Jungle Tree, Nicaraguan Queen, and Snoop Dog!


Although the project was their first clay assignment, the creations were inspired.


Emiko Dunn, who created a white cylinder with a sculpted face, a lid and curved handle said, “I decided on a Chinese Teapot theme because I love the teapots in my grandparents house. I used blue watercolors to paint the eyes and swirls on the white background just like the blue and white porcelain of the teapots. “ 


The cold temperatures outside sparked creativity in Charles Romanelli. “I decided on Ice King. I used a toothpick to make it look like cracked ice all over, then I rolled clay to make drips of ice and ran my finger around it to smooth it out, the ice crown is cut with a modeling tool.”


Eduardo Crisostomo went with an old wood theme, “I took a subtractive tool and made wood knots with realistic wood texturing. I added yellow teeth to mine–more realism.” Eduardo compared working with clay to the masonry work he has done with his father. “Shaping the cement to fit the stone is similar to using clay.”


Students made connections to their backgrounds and interests. Maya Delgado’s family has roots in Nicaragua so she decided to go with a Mayan theme. Her sculpture is tall and gray–”I used the modeling tools to create a cracked rock effect”--in the center it has a giant crystal eye; on top it has palm leaves sprouting upwards and a triangle with a painted scene of the Caribbean sea and a flame over volcanic mountains.”I used the triangle shape for the canvas because it reminded me of the Mayans.”


Willow DeSouza, who plans on continuing with ceramics at the high school, made a Snoop Dogg tiki sculpture–fit with pipe cleaner hair and diamond earrings. Her dad, who is a fashion designer, is going to sew a hat. “My plan is to mail it to Snoop Dogg. If I were a celebrity, I’d be excited to get this.”