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Up To Our Elbows In Clay, Plaster And Wax

Full disclosure: I love clay. It is a perfect medium in which to create a 3-dimensional object, whether it be a functional piece like a bowl or a work of serious Art. Clay is elemental, primal, ancient, and its properties were known by the earliest humans. It is as old as simple drawing implements such as pieces of burnt wood (i.e., charcoal) used to scratch images on cave walls. Clay ties you together with the prehistoric humans, who fashioned vessels and tools out of clay and decorated them with simple dyes.   Long ago, someone left a piece of molded clay, perhaps one holding food or water near a fire, and instead of burning away, the clay got stronger! An ageless invention.

All cultures have also used clay to create Art and it remains the basic medium in which to learn sculpture. At Montgomery College, the Sculpture I course starts with clay. First you mold your piece in clay. In this early assignment, we hybridized two fruits into something new: I recombined a banana with a large okra to create a ‘banokra’. That clay piece was my source, my first positive model. Then I took a silicone gel, surrounded the clay with this substance and let it get semi-hard. When it was time to remove the clay, the resulting empty silicone became my negative mold. Then I partially closed up the silicone mold with pins and tape, mixed up some plaster, poured it into a little hole, and it dried to make a second, positive model in plaster.   This plaster piece is hard but carve-able, so I was able to work on it more. Then I took the same silicone mold, and this time poured molten wax into it. When I unmolded it, the wax became my third, positive model. Ah, the joy of working in soft wax!

The professor has promised us that we will be using a ‘lost wax’ method next week, we’ll be able to cast the wax model into metal! Imagine casting in metal! I’ve always wanted to do this. We’re all so excited to learn these concrete (no pun intended) skills.

I asked some of my classmates in TP/SS why they were taking Sculpture I and whether they were also learning new skills. One of them said she had taken a 3D course but it was difficult for her to think ‘in the round’, which is what sculpture requires, and she wanted to expand her abilities. Another said that she was studying Renaissance sculpture in her Art History class, was so impressed with the sculptures and wanted to experience creating this type of work herself. A third said that he enjoyed the process of learning these very hands-on techniques, and that Sculpture class is like a lab in that you learn to use materials, equipment, and procedures. Everyone agreed that it was very powerful to hold clay in your hands, mold it, and then take it through the ancient processes which connect us to the past and at the same time very contemporary.


Arleen Seed

Hi! My name is Arleen Cannata Seed and I’m studying Fine Arts here at Montgomery College in Takoma Park/Silver Spring. Originally from New York City, I studied Art as an undergraduate years ago, but chose to spend my career in a totally different field, working for the United Nations and traveling all over the world bringing technological solutions to global problems.

Once I retired, I had the time and mental space to practice Art again, but I knew I had forgotten the fundamentals. So, I enrolled in 100 level courses in drawing, painting, and sculpture at MC. This was just the catalyst I needed! The professors at MC, in both the Community Arts and the regular credit courses, provided a course of study and opened my eyes to the different ways in which Art is taught in the 21st Century.

This blog is about my journey, my transition from working adult to pursuing an earlier dream, and I’m hoping this story resonates with young people thinking about their career choices and older people yearning to rekindle pursuits which have always interested them.

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