Thursday, July 28, 2011

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Children wind clay into pots for cultural learning

Staff Writer

12:34 a.m. PDT, July 28, 2011

OCOTILLO — Ocotillo resident Dillon Austin took care to smooth the sides of the project he spent hours creating Wednesday morning.

After winding together a coil for a base, he began building up the sides, one string of reddish-brown clay at a time. When finished, the hour glass-shaped pot was left to dry and be fired. It was Dillon’s first project for a pilot program art class at the Desert Museum.

“I want to come back next week,” he said.

The 12-year-old was one of about a dozen children from here who wound together pieces of clay into pots at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. Though it was Dillon’s first class, others have been going to the center all summer to play with the clay.

The class is one portion of the pilot program the museum is putting together, said Executive DirectorNeal Hitch. The steps after the summer class finishes will be to bring the art classes to a high school in the fall, and then exhibit what the high schoolers create.

The program allows children and students to see what it takes to make some of the pots that are at the museum, Hitch said. Having the experience of creating a bad pot — and everyone’s first pot is bad — makes the ones that were made long ago by the Kumeyaay Indian Tribe in the area a lot more impressive.

The students could see how hard it is to make some of the two-feet-wide clay pieces when those students are constructing ones that are only a few inches wide, he said.

The pilot project began after the museum received a $2,000 grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation, he said. The Howard P. Meyer Foundation in El Centro also contributed funding and ASM Affiliates archeology company gave money for the clay.

The program has been a big success so far as the museum has seen more than double the expected number of kids each day, he said. The real test of how popular it is is the number of kids who return and recommend that others come out, Hitch said.

“This is just something that it’s fun to be here,” he said.

Children at the event agreed that it was worth coming back to.

Brittany Rausa, 12, has been coming for weeks, and said that she really enjoys making the pots. Her first one didn’t turn out well, but they’ve been improving.

Her favorite part is getting to mold clay while talking with friends, she said.

For 16-year-old Lucas Hitch, it’s about a little more competition than that. He wants to make pots that are better than his teacher’s, and his are getting there.

While he would like to make a pot as good as those by the Kumeyaay on display, he doesn’t think that’s going to happen with only a few classes left.

However, he said, he can hope.

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