William Blount High School’s students have been breathing life into clay.

By Matthew Stewart, The Daily Times | 

54cd9e3246995.imageNearly 120 art students spent last week creating portrait busts under the supervision of Nan Jacobsohn, a professional artist in residence. Visual arts teacher Doris Poppelreiter acquired Tennessee Arts Commission funds that paid for Jacobsohn’s visit.

The high-schoolers will continue working this week on the project. They’re expected to complete the busts on Thursday.

After the pieces have dried, Poppelreiter will fire them in the kiln. Students will add finishes to the fired pieces prior to exhibiting them, then take them home.

Jacobsohn, who has now worked three times in the past five years with Poppelreiter’s classes, was pleased with this year’s students. “I love being in Maryville. Students are engaged, enthusiastic and respectful. I always know I’ll have a wonderful time here.”

In 2012, Jacobsohn assisted in the creation of clay sculptures inspired by totem poles in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, Jacobsohn assisted in the creation of a school mural.

The portrait busts are different from earlier partnerships, especially the mural, Jacobsohn said. “Students had a small amount of creative input (in the mural’s creation). However, they learned a lot about technique. Clay is more intimate. It’s theirs. I’ve told them it’s not a beauty contest. They need to follow the clay’s suggestions, enjoying the process and following where it takes them.

“Clay is a lot of fun for students. They end up creating characters even when they don’t intend to do it. They can’t help but put a lot of themselves into it.”

“I like clay,” said junior Kiara Phipps. “It’s challenging, especially when you haven’t worked with it. However, it offers a lot of possibilities. The clay just speaks to you.”

“You can actually make it look like something else,” said junior Colby Gilbert. “I feel a sense of freedom working with it.”

Opening eyes

Students should learn a lot from the project, Poppelreiter said. “We’re trying to provide students with the opportunity to better understand 3-D work by having them get their hands into it. Many people don’t have a true understanding of portraits or sculptures. You can’t simply create it. You have to understand the underlying structures.

“So, we want them to get a better understanding of human features, common proportions and deviations. It will also teach them to appreciate differences and celebrate their own individuality.”

Students spent one week prior to Jacobsohn’s arrival studying anatomy and proportions. They also learned how to take these 2-D representations and transform them into 3-D objects.

“After they finish next week, they’ll translate into 2-D, shading it to make it look like 3-D,” Poppelreiter said. “They’ll have a major better understanding after this project. They’ll have trained their eye to see, looking and observing what’s there rather than assuming they know what they’re seeing.”