By Jenny Neyman
When clay artist Terry Inokuma teaches a class, it’s about the process, not the product.
She keeps kids focused on learning each step of the process by not letting them know what they are making.
“I don’t tell them what it will be because kids have expectations of what it should look like so they jump ahead in the process,” she said.
She also teaches them to let their hands guide them by having students sculpt some pieces under the table without looking at their work.
“They separate their sense of touch from vision because we’re usually too dependent on our eyes,” she said.
But the beauty of clay is it’s a 3-D medium, which can appeal to kids who may struggle with other art forms, such as figure drawing.
“The two-dimensional world is so visually attached, whereas the three-dimensional world is allowed to be a little more abstract. It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she said.
Inokuma is finishing up a three-week stint as the artist in residence at Nikiski North Star Elementary School this week. The program, administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Rasmuson Foundation, brings artists into schools to share their medium with students who may not otherwise be exposed to much art.
Inokuma is from Oregon. She’s done residency programs in her home district, and applied for the Alaska program after meeting a relocated clay artist from Homer. She’s been to Chenega on Evans Island, Teller, King Cove, Sand Point, Wasilla, Anchorage and Pelican. Her next residency will be at Sterling Elementary in January.
“The goal is to teach the basic methods of working with clay so as they progress through the clay world, if they love it, they’ll have the basics in working with clay,” she said.
At Nikiski North Star she’s working mainly with fourth- through sixth-graders, but has taught the primary grades, as well. There’s even an old kiln at the school to fire the kids’ projects. Being a clay artist, she’s had to improvise that portion of her classes before. In coastal areas she’s been to it’s usually warm enough to create a fire pit, but she’s also had to repair old, broken kilns, use a wood stove and create her own kiln with a burner and propane.
She has a clay day each time she does a residency, where she does demonstrations and her students exhibit their work to the public. Nikiski had its exhibition Friday. Inokuma said parents and teachers have been supportive of her work at the school.
“When I’ve heard from parents they come walking in with wide eyes saying, ‘What are you guys doing here? My kid’s coming home saying, ‘Clay is fun,’” she said.
Inokuma says parents should find a way to support the artistic tendencies all kids have, no matter what mediums they’re suited to.
“I encourage all parents to encourage the artistic sides in all of their children’s worlds, because everyone learns so differently and it opens up different avenues for children to learn,” she said.