Thursday, January 31, 2013

Teaching Structure: Charles Clarey inspired Paper Sculptures

Have you ever heard of a paper sculptor named Charles Clary?


The "paper cut" I made in the TAEA workshop.
Well, I literally stumbled upon him a few years ago at an art crawl here in Nashville. Later that year I attended a workshop offered by TAEA and he was my teacher! After that, I was hooked! I love the bright colors and organic shapes and think it is a great way to teach collaboration and installation with young students. I am doing this lesson with third grade and it is a favorite.

First we begin the discussion about structure using our idea books. I ask the students to think of as many geometric shapes as they can and draw them.  Geometric shapes are shapes that can be defined mathematically, but for this exercise we looked at any shape you could name, squares, circles, even chevrons, and 3-D forms. Then we talk about what the word "organic"means, defined it, refined our definition for art and came up with "irregular shapes". These shapes are most often found in nature but are to varied to be named.
Then we learned about Charles Clary. We read an article in Wired (2010) and looked at his construction methods and installations. I focused on the "towers" and students began to cut intuitive organic shapes (no drawing first!). On the back , students marked each piece with their initials and the number it would be in the tower (TA-1, TA-2 and so on). This helps to remember which side will be up as well as which piece goes where. Once they had created 3-10 pieces that grew in size, we connected them with 3-D O's. These are amazing! They are basically pieces of foam core with adhesive on both sides. I use the O's and then cut up the "spaces" and use them too!

Once the towers are completed and assembled, the students deposit them on a large class organic shape that I have cut. We gather around the table and discuss balance and scale. It is no longer about "your" tower, now it is about how all the pieces fit together! Once assembled and balanced we take the finished class piece out into the hall way and "install" it on the wall. As each class finished our installation grows. It is an exciting process to watch!

 This is only three of our five classes installed. This thing will spread down the wall like that nasty stomach virus that has been going around...viruses are one of the phenomena that inspires Clary's work...but ours is beautiful and less likely to make you sick!

So, how do I assess this...well, this is one of those short, building units so I don't do a written assessment (assessment is my nemisis  and has therefore become my new best friend). I do a lot of observation. I can see in the idea book exercise how many geometric shapes they can generate and anything more than eight shapes drawn is excellent. I ask them to practice drawing five organic shapes before I ask them to cut. I model and look for good craftsmanship in cutting and assembly. I watch how they collaborate and use vocabulary while arranging the towers and how they interact with each other. These observations show understanding and growth, the evidence is in the idea book pages (pre-test) and the completed class installations (post-test). They have shown that they can draw, cut, describe and identify organic shapes as well as differentiate between organic and geometric shapes.

Here is the final result! This instillation includes all five third grade classes. It was finished this week!

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