Lower School News

Not Just Playing with Clay: PreK Art Inspired by Brazilian Artist
Dianne Willoughby
Carolee Fucigna helping students build clay structures

With a deep conviction for the importance of learning through art, Carolee Fucigna, Nueva prekindergarten teacher, developed an opportunity for the prekindergarten students to connect their artwork to that of a renowned Brazilian artist, Anna Maria Maiolino.

Last fall, Carolee took a trip to Los Angeles to visit some of the exhibits of "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.” Led by the Getty, "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” was a collaborative effort of arts institutions across Southern California. It was an ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.

Different uses of clay

Just prior to her trip, Carolee and her co-teacher, Claire Wasserman-Rogers, had been the exploring the various qualities and properties of clay with their students, and hypothesizing together clay’s possible uses. “When I came upon the work of Ms. Maiolino, I was immediately struck by the connections between her repetitive works in clay and the hands-on work of our preK students,” said Carolee.

Because clay is so sensitive, so responsive to touch, Carolee felt her students could see in this work what Maiolino described: "The viewers, if they are sensitive, as many are, will find in this accumulation of work, their own work, the gestures they repeat daily."

Carolee shared her images of the exhibition with her students and told them that their own clay explorations had created many different forms and shapes, just as Maiolino. Maybe they could put all their forms together like Maiolino and create a giant community piece?

The children got to work with the following parameters: to create a clay shape nobody else had created, and then to make a lot of those shapes.

This hands-on experience with the artistic “language” of a material like clay has been a powerful source of learning and self-discovery for the students. They have learned about the affordances of clay — if it can go up or down, can be pinched, built out, etc. — as a medium for self-expression.

Logistical challenges involved how to attach their forms to a base that would show off the individuality of their pieces, but also be strong enough for the unfired and fragile clay to withstand manipulation by young children. Armed with strong white cardboard and clear-drying Elmer’s glue, which is perfect for connecting porous items, students mounted the individual shapes, reflecting the work of Maiolino.

Carolee, a long-time researcher of the influences of art in the cognitive development of young children, has collaborated with other educators and co-authored books on the subject. She has specifically studied how young students interpret their world via drawing and painting, one part of which is developing their understanding from two-dimensional to three-dimensional.

Little kid making clay sculptures

Important to Carolee and Claire was enabling the students to have a role in organizing the line of clay forms. That was where the drawing came in: to preserve the forms through the iterations of organization by the students, the preK teachers had them draw all their forms on rectangles of paper first. Not only did this method afford them the freedom and flexibility to manipulate and order the pages to form a template for their final design, it provided an important opportunity to challenge the students to translate their three-dimensional forms into two-dimensional marks.

Learning and development occurs for students on many levels as part of a creative experience. Student freedom to figure out their own way to translate 3-D forms into 2-D images was of the utmost importance to Carolee. “This part of the experience underlines the importance of not teaching young children drawing 'tricks' in regard to the expression of three dimensions on 2-D paper. They are perfectly capable of creating their own logical systems for the expression of this characteristic of an item. Robbing them of this opportunity by teaching them 'tricks' of the Western art canon (crosshatching, shadowing, etc.) at this age is inappropriate and similar to squashing the interesting and logical hypotheses they construct about how — for example — the baby gets out of the womb, or why chickens lay different colored eggs, or what the purpose of mushrooms is,” explained Carolee.

“In addition, there is no true right way to express the translation of three dimensions into two. Over centuries, we have accepted certain translations as canon, while other cultures have developed different strategies. These varying strategies are not wrong, just different, and children need to be afforded the opportunity to develop their own strategies to resolve this challenge,” she said.

See "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” to learn more about their initiative.


By Dianne Willoughby, Editorial Manager

March 14, 2018

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