Sixth graders have been exploring folk art with art teacher Jane McGinty. Recently, students finished hand-building face jugs, a ceramic pottery tradition that dates back to the 1840s and the enslaved people who worked on plantations as potters. "I always try to weave a bit of art history into every project we do, "says Jane, "and a folk artist can be anyone who creates artwork, yet was not trained as an artist or did not go to school for art." While other aspects of the folk art unit had to be redesigned due to COVID classroom limitations, Jane felt it was important to keep the face jugs project. "These vessels are an important part of our history, and it connects with topics that Lower School History Teacher Bruce Chauncey is also covering in his sixth grade class."
Before starting their face jugs, students learned about David Drake's work. Drake, also known as "Dave the Slave," was a talented potter from Edgefield, South Carolina. He defied the laws of the 1800s because he could read and write, and he used those skills to inscribe lines of verse into his pottery. While slaves made pottery and urns for plantations and sale, face jugs were made for personal use.
Drawing on some of the skills they learned in previous years in the pottery studio, students began by making a pinch pot using the coil method to change and shape their form. While students could have imitated the kinds of faces common to the historical face jugs, Jane felt that would be an injustice to the original work. "We don't have the authentic experience that the original makers did," she notes. "Instead, I had each student sketch out several different emotions that they have experienced during this school year, and they each used one as a model for their jug." Students finished slipping, scoring and constructing the faces this past week, and after the pots dry, they will be fired in the Art Studio kiln.
During the folk art unit, Jane also discussed some other African American folk art traditions. Jane talked about meeting folk artist and author Faith Ringgold, whose granddaughter Faith Wallace-Gadsden '98 attended Fay. She showed students examples of Ringgold's story quilts as well as a wide variety of folk art from other cultures: paper cutting crafts from Asian and Eastern European cultures, Russian folk art, needlepoint and quilting from communities in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, folk art sculpture, and dolls from Sante Fe, New Mexico and Oaxaca, Mexico, and crafts from communities on the Appalachian Trail.
Next, sixth graders will be making "Agamographs" based on Israeli artist Yakov Agam's work. Using imagery inspired by their reading of When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, students will be making lenticular art that gives the illusion that the image is changing when the viewer moves!