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Monday, August 26, 2013

Three Sisters Pottery Lesson

This pottery lesson is perfect for introducing Native American heritage and basic pottery techniques to children.

In this activity, children will learn how to make a pinch pot, a coil pot, and a slab pot.



Because of the complexities of the later clay techniques, this lesson is best for students in grade 3 or so. Of course, if you are working one-on-one, younger children may be able to complete all three pots. This would also be a nice project to spread across grades: have a first-grader do the pinch pot, a second-grader create the coil pot, and a third-grader complete the slab pot--THAT would be great!

Begin by reading the Legend of the Three Sisters to the children. With this legend, students are introduced to the foods, customs, and stories that evolved from the planting of corn, beans, and squash--the three sisters. This is a tradition of several Native American tribes from the northeastern United States.

For this art activity, students will create a pinch pot to represent a squash (mine looks like a pumpkin), a coil pot to represent a string bean (mine is open slightly so you can see the "seeds" or beans inside), and a slab pot to represent an ear of corn and the husk. I chose those particular clay handbuilding techniques for each vegetable since they shared similar attributes: the pinch pot is round and simple like a squash, the coil pot reminds me of the tendrils that allow the bean plant to clim way up high, and when I am shucking corn, the husks come off in sort of flat planes that remind me of the slab technique.

Here's the project! Enjoy!

3 Sisters Pottery

Supplies Needed:
  • Legend to read aloud
  • Real examples of pumpkins, green beans and corn in its husk to look at (or really great pictures)
  • Clay (we used Crayola air dry clay since I don't have a kiln)
  • Plastic knife, optional
  • Paint (we used tempera)
  • Paintbrushes, water bucket, paper towels
  • Newspapers to work on
Directions to make the SQUASH SISTER:
1. Take a bit of clay about the size of an egg and gently press your thumb into the clay squeezing the wall of your pinch pot between your thumb and pointer finger, moving around the wall of the pot, enlarging the opening. You're making a little bowl. Make sure the sides of the bowl don't flare out too much, since you are creating a pumpkin-looking squash. 

2. Once you are happy with your pinch pot, gently turn it over and use a plastic knife to gently make the indents you see in the sides of a pumpkin. Don't press too hard or saw through the dough, you are just adding a little interest to the pot. 

3. Use a pea-sized amount of clay for a stem and gently attach it to the center of the pot.

4. Let dry and use at least two colors to color the pumpkin and the stem of your piece. Let dry.


Directions to make the BEAN SISTER:
1. Take a piece of clay the size of an egg and pinch off a bit the size of a grape, set aside.

2. Take the larger portion of clay and roll it out into a big, long, "snake" of clay. 

3. Starting at one end, coil the clay around and around in an oval shape, gradually stacking the coil upon itself to make the outer portion of the bean. 

4. Divide the small portion of clay into three or four bits and create the bean "seeds" that are inside a green bean. They are kidney-shaped. Place them inside your coil pot bean. 

5. Let dry and use at least two colors to color the bean. Let dry.


Directions to make the CORN SISTER:
1. Take a piece of clay about the size of a baseball and roll it out on the table to 1/4" thickness. Make sure it is nice and even. For this part, I created a template out of cardstock that was a slightly curved,  elongated triangle. I had my children cut five of those triangles from the clay using the knife. Three will be the corn cob: before assembling, use the end of a marker or your knife to gently press corn kernel texture onto those three pieces. 

2. Gently pinch the edges of the three corn cob sections together to make a 3D corn cob.

3. Take the other two triangle sections and "scratch and attach" them to your corn cob--these are the leaves of the corn husk. Gently fold the corn husk portions down and out a bit.

4. Let dry and use at least two colors to color the corn cob and the husk of your piece. Let dry.



I printed out a copy of the legend, glued it to a scrap of mat board
and then hot-glued the three pots on there so the 3 Sisters can be displayed together.


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NOTES: You may be able to use Model Magic for this project, I didn't have any to experiment with. In that case, you could use colored Model Magic and you'd be done quicker.

If you use air dry clay and some bits fall of during the drying precess, just attach with hot glue or tacky glue.

There are many follow-up activities to a project like this. You could have students write about their work, plant the vegetables mentioned in the legend, cook a recipe containing all three of these vegetables (search for Three Sisters Stew on the internet), act out the legend, and much more!

Here are two nice links to get you started:

Cornel University:
http://blogs.cornell.edu/garden/get-activities/signature-projects/the-three-sisters-exploring-an-iroquois-garden/

The Michigan Land Use Institute:
Has this wonderful lesson by FoodCorps Service Member Kirsten Gerbatsch from Michigan. This file is a pdf.

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