by Cassie Stephens
All my kindergarten through fourth grade students are currently creating with clay. My art room floor is so covered in clay dust that a first grader asked if it had snowed in the art room. My hands are dry and cracked from the clay, and my back is already sore from loading and unloading the kiln. Despite all that, I wouldn’t give up sharing the wonder of clay with my students for anything in the world. When I told my kindergarten class they were working with clay, one of them shouted, “I just love you!” That’s pretty much how everyone feels about clay.
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the studio of Nan Jacobsohn not too long ago. She was kind enough to let me film her working and explaining her process to my students. As my kids are finishing their work, they have been returning to our gathering spot and watching Nan’s interview. It is so vital for them to know this clay that they love so much can actually lead to opportunities for them—like becoming an artist!
Nan Jacobsohn is a ceramic sculptor who claims to have a touch of clay attention deficit disorder, as she loves to bounce around from one project to the next. In the video, she does a wonderful job of explaining to my students how clay also has an attention span: It needs to rest and set up some before an artist can return to working with it. For that reason, Nan likes to fill in the time by working on several projects at once: masks, bas relief, and wheel throwing.
Nan shared that her main interest is currently masks. I love how she explains that every native society that has existed has created varieties of masks in varying mediums. She thinks it is because people have always loved to “shed our old everyday persona and become something new.” This really got me excited to do a clay mask sculpture with my students. Not only are masks universally created but they are also appreciated by all ages.
When Nan began sharing her process with a medium that my students had just finished creating with, that really spoke to them. I was amazed to see their understanding of her words and her creative process as their very own clay projects dried on the shelves in my kiln room. We chatted for a while about what we had learned from Nan in the video, and the most important lesson learned was that if they enjoyed working with clay, they should keep creating in clay—and they, too, might be a working artist like Nan Jacobsohn one day!
See more of Nan Jacobsohn’s work at www.theclayhorse.com.