Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chinese Clay: Playtime for Adults

For my programming mini-assignment, I looked at my libraries calendar and saw that today there was going to be a course on Chinese Ceramics. Needless to say, the artistic impulse was super curious. So I arrived at the library branch a few minutes early, and was the second person to fill out the registration form. They require every participant in one of these hands-on programs to fill out a registration form.

These forms were originally crafted to cull information out of children (the stand out question in that regard was: Who do you live with? A) My Mom and Dad, B) My Mom, C) My Dad, D) Other Guardian). The instructor suggested that we scrawl in there whatever we want. Being that I live with my mother, that's the one I checked off.

There were, including the instructor, seven adults at this program. It was evenly balanced between men and women as far as the participants (3 men, 3 women) were concerned. Four of the participants were couples, and the majority of participants (4) including the instructor, were all older adults.

The Instructor was a nice blonde lady with bifocals, who was skilled in various Asian art forms. She also is going to teach classes in paper folding, wood cuts, etc. For today's class, she wished to have us create Terra Cotta warriors. Much like the ones found recently in China.

Apparently, as she informed us, Chinese archaeologists dug up a 7,000 strong clay sculpture army that had been commissioned by Chin Shek Huang, the man who formed the Empire of China, and mostly fashioned the country as it remains to this day. To guard his possessions when he died, he instructed that these warriors be placed underground. Well, the Terra Cotta warriors have been excavated, and they are magnificent works of art even 2,200 years later. All that has worn away in that time was the paint!

So, to fashion these warriors, we were each given a wire bendy piece and a lump of terra cotta clay. If you've ever seen terra cotta, you will note that it's extremely red, as the instructor informed us today, this is due to the iron in the clay. The type of terra cotta we "worked" with today was called 'air dry', in that it would dry by itself if left alone. After bending out skeletons for our warriors, and stapling them to blocks of wood, we started adding small lumps of clay to the frames. It was akin to putting muscles and flesh on a skeleton, and felt like an awe-inspiring act of creation.

At the end of the hour, every one had fashioned interesting sculptures. Mine is at the top of this article, and as you can tell it looks fairly awesome (at least I hope it does). The subtitle comes from a brief conversation at the start of the hour I had with a nice older lady who asked, "Have you come to play with clay as well?"

There is something just so awesome about public library programming when it's done well. I hope to have more experiences like this one. And yes, I love playing with clay!


  1. What a fun activity! Did you have to pay a fee for the clay and supplies or does the library cover the cost? Was the instructor a library staff member or an outside artist? Nice report.

  2. The instructor was an outside artist who tends to work in the Garfield Park/Fountain Square ares of Indianapolis.

    Everything was free of charge for us.

    Thanks Alisa!

  3. It is most definitely awesome Ben. :)

  4. Your sculpture is indeed awesome. I'm quite jealous over the wonderful programming option you had here (whatever library you went to). At my library, unless you can/want to knit, you are kind of out of luck as far as adult programming goes.

  5. Wow, a library that's exclusively knitting programming. That's sounds decidedly uncool.