Gundlach continues her love of teaching clay to young students

Photo by Tom Sherlin

When clay artist Annamaria Gundlach arrives for class, her instruction is part science, part math, part art and all around fun for the elementary students learning the tricks of her trade.

Gundlach, a resident of Blount County, is a professional artist whose work has been displayed here and worldwide. Her latest project was as a teaching artist with the Tennessee Arts Commission Student Ticket Subsidy program. Last week’s lucky learners were students at Mary Blount Elementary School.

What started out as a blob of clay in the hands of the K-5 students became baskets, pins, medallions and face pots. The novice potters’ artwork was fired in Mary Blount’s kiln. Then it was painted and taken home.

Gundlach has been teaching children for more than 25 years. As a roster artist with the TN Arts Commission, she has been able to share her talent with other schools, like Friendsville, Porter, Middlesettlements, Fairview and Prospect elementaries.

Ready and eager

It was Mary Blount’s turn last week and the children were elated. Gundlach first talked to them about forming the clay and how to make symmetrical shapes. Kindergartners in an early afternoon class took their sphere of clay back to their desks, closed their eyes and imagined they were rolling out a meatball. When they opened their eyes, there it was.

“It is rustic but it is hands-on,” Gundlach explained before the start of class. “We start out with something small because you really need strength to mold clay. By the time we are done, they have something they can hold in their hands. It is a sense of accomplishment.”

Becoming a clay artist takes some science, engineering and math, Gundlach explained. The students have to know about the properties of clay, how to get the right shapes, the difference between a sphere and a circle, how to make things look precise and how to make their own one-of-a-kind art project. The best part is, they probably don’t even know that’s what they are doing.

Carving it out

The tools Gundlach placed on each table helped the students turn the ball of clay into a flattened medallion. They used small sticks to form eyes, noses and mouths. Some added freckles, curly hair, big smiles and ears. No two were alike. Heather Woods has been the art teacher at Mary Blount for 11 years. She said Gundlach has been coming to her classroom every year. Students can’t wait for the week of her visit.

“She has a way of bringing out their imaginations like nothing else,” Woods said. “This is something they don’t get to do a lot so it is exciting. She makes it fun.”

The TN Arts Commission has been supplying artists for the program for years. The grants are available to several counties. Teachers need only apply on the TN Arts Commission website at the start of the school year.

This article was originally published by The Daily Times, Blount County