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PVC Art Class Blends Art And History

  PVC Art Class Blends Art And History - Students Working with Clay to Create "Face Jug Project"

With Face Jug Project, PVC Art Class Blends Art And History

Seventh and eighth-graders students at Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School are participating in a fascinating project that blends art and history. In art teacher Wendy Armstrong’s classes, the students are creating ‘face jugs’, which were traditionally crafted by African slaves and freedmen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The jugs were functional—they were filled with water and brought into the fields by slaves—but they also served another purpose: the faces on the jugs were believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits. Students mold the jugs from clay, making sure to leave a roughly quarter-sized opening in the top for pouring water, and fettling knives are used to carve the faces as well as additional details. They have to use critical thinking skills to plan ahead and consider balance, as many of them add noses or horns that can break or fall off if not properly constructed. At the end of the project, each student submits a write-up explaining how they focused on perspective and what textures they included.

While some students began the project with a vision in mind, such as a particular face or even an animal, the majority said they simply started working and went with the flow. Many say that art is currently their favorite class, as it provides a break from other subjects and gives them a chance to work with their hands.

“I like to just come in and relax and create,” said one of Ms. Armstrong’s students. “And I like getting my hands dirty.”

Ms. Armstrong has been featuring this project in her seventh-grade classes for years, but since last year’s seventh graders didn’t get the chance to make face jugs and learn about the history behind them, this year she is including the project in her eight-grade classes as well.

“All my lessons are about culture, the artist and movement,” she said. “I believe strongly in teaching about diversity, and I hope it leads to greater understanding and acceptance among my students.”