By Liz Richter, KMAC Art Educator
This spring, we had the pleasure of working with Coleridge-Taylor Montessori, one of two Montessori’s in JCPS, as a part of our scholastic artist in residency program here at KMAC. We collaborated with CTM Principal Yvette Stockwell and PTA member Kate Kolb to create a custom residency package with 4th and 5th grade students. They expressed the vision to create something really memorable and impactful for the students. From the time that I walked into the school, I had my eye on the big, empty brick walls that framed the entrance of the lobby. I started researching collaborative clay mural techniques that worked well with elementary students and started sketching a “free form”mosaic approach, where hand-built circle shapes would make up the image. After consulting with the PTA and principal, we chose a design inspired by their school logo, of a world surrounded by student portraits, and the words “Coleridge-Taylor Montessori.”
Over 175 students in 4-5th grade created a mural piece and coil pot and glazed both. We started by learning about clay and discussing the process of ceramics. One class made coils on slabs, which formed all of the letters, another class made tile portraits, and five classes made the world pieces. We decided on circle shapes for the water and leaf shapes for the earth. Their art room, which was a communal space this year, was a dusty, happy mess (don’t worry, we cleaned it up!). Some students had never used clay before, and were fascinated with the way the “texture tools” (odds and ends ranging from beads, to buttons, to small plastic sea creatures) created interesting embellishments to their tiles.
I purchased a nice variety of beautiful blues and greens for the land and water to create some variety in the design, and delegated colors to each table of students so that the variety was consistent. Some students even created little extra texture shapes for us to use as filler. With the help from Kate from the PTA, we were able to complete our projects in three sessions. After the students had also made their coil pots and glazed them with their favorite colors, we packed up all the clay and headed back to the museum to fire them in our kilns. I promised the students that they would get their beloved pots back as soon as we could, and I heard excited plans like “Mine is going to be a pencil holder!” and “I’m giving mine to my mom!”
Back at the museum, our education staff, volunteers and interns helped me sort, paint clear glaze, scrape and fire over 350 pieces. Our art handler, Ben Cook cut the large wooden pieces that would become the backing for the mural. Slowly but surely, the tiles came together to form what I had envisioned in my sketches. After delivering their pots to the school, we started gluing the mural pieces to the backing. I got excited seeing the earth shapes finally begin forming and could finally stop worrying about whether my mathematical planning was correct! After delivering the completed mural to the school, I went back to see it installed. Parents and students were coming in and out, and many stopped to see the new mural in its prime location.
“This amazing mural reflects our Coleridge-Taylor Montessori spirit of collaboration and individuality. Each piece was designed and created by an intermediate student. Thanks to our artist-in-residence and PTA parents for helping to make this possible!” -Principal Yvette Stockwell