A feel for clay

Students learn to trust their hands

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2006


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  The artist, Terry Inokuma of Philomath, Ore., shows students an example of Native American pottery as they work on their own project. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Kienan Stormo, right, and Brendan Scott work on a clay project with others in their fifth-grade class at Redoubt Elementary during an Artist in Residence program.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

When Terry Inokuma has students work with clay, she doesn’t always let them see what they’re working on.

“I want them trusting their hands, and not depending so much on their eyes. It’s a technique that helps them reach the right side of their brain,” Inokuma said last week during a break between classes at Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna.

Inokuma has turned the school library into a ceramic art studio for the month of November as an Artist in Residence. The program is sponsored by the Alaska State Council on the Arts, with support from the state Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rasmuson Foundation. The Artist in Residence program is the centerpiece of the Council on the Arts’ Art in Education program to encourage the integration of art into the lives and experiences of students, teachers and communities.

“They’re loving it, absolutely loving it,” Cindy Hurst, a third-grade teacher at Redoubt, said of her students. “She’s really been on the kids’ level, introduced a new vocabulary, related art to her personal life and the world around them.”


The artist, Terry Inokuma of Philomath, Ore., shows students an example of Native American pottery as they work on their own project.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Inokuma, who is from Oregon, has visited Alaska as an Artist in Residence on several occasions. She’s been to Chenega Village on Evans Island, Teller, and Sand Point. She’s also visited the state through friends and fellow artists.

“I fell in love with he state. It’s so beautiful — there’s no place like Alaska,” she said.

Inokuma said she’s been a working artist for 14 years. Her background is in glass blowing, and she got hooked on ceramic art shortly after.

“I studied graphic design (in college), but I lost interest because it all went to computers. I wanted to do something more with fine arts,” she said.

Ceramics have been an integral part of human culture — Inokuma said the oldest known piece of clay work made by man is 30,000 years old — and she is helping students at Redoubt connect with that history as they work on their projects.

“Clay is a medium that offers endless learning in so many different ways. It’s history is so rich — clay records our history better than any other medium out there,” Inokuma said.

Inokuma said she’s worked in schools where she’s been warned ahead of time that students aren’t into art and might not show much interest in clay.

“They always all confess that they fell in love with clay, they never thought they would enjoy it as much as they did, and they didn’t realize the breadth of clay — it’s used in industry, in science, just everywhere,” she said.

Hurst said there’s a special connection made when students are able to get their hands into a piece of clay.

“That connection, it’s a kinesthetic connection, and tactile learning — it’s amazing how the same direction can be given, but the products are different. It teaches them to celebrate how each piece of art is unique,” Hurst said.

Hurst said the subject of ceramics is being tied in to other subjects around the the school, from history to language arts, even science, where students are learning about where clay comes from.

Inokuma has Redoubt students working on a variety of three-dimensional projects, from fish and dinosaurs to pinch pots and coil pots. She said she doesn’t tell them what they’re working on, instead letting them construct each piece and discover their creation when it’s fully assembled.

“I want them to be very present in the moment with their clay, rather than thinking about the future,” Inokuma said. “Usually, they’re amazed at what they’ve made.”

Students at Redoubt each will complete two projects, and their final session with Inokuma will be dedicated to applying paint and glaze. When completed, the projects will be displayed in the school.

Inokuma said the final projects always are amazing.

“(Kids) are so uninhibited when they work in an artistic way, and their work is precious, no matter how it comes out. It’s the most pure form of expressionism there is,” Inokuma said. Hurst said she is thankful for the opportunity to bring more art into her students’ curriculum.

“I wish there were more opportunities for this kind of event to happen,” she said. “I’m very thankful that the Council on the Arts — it’s just so awesome that they are available, that they are promoting this kind of learning.”

Open studio planned

Terry Inokuma, an Artist in Residence at Redoubt Elementary School, will host an open clay studio Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the school. The public is invited to participate.

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.

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