Clay Masks

These masks were part of a series of lessons where kids learned about art from various cultures around the world. The formal elements that the kids worked with during this project were texture, pattern, form and negative space. We looked at a variety of African mask images for inspiration.

These masks were made over a plaster mold shaped like half an egg. I made the plaster egg forms by pouring plaster into plastic Easter eggs that split horizontally. Most plastic Easter eggs split into different size top and bottom sections. I searched for the ones that split into two symmetrical halves and then purchased around 20 of them so I could make enough molds for an entire class in one pouring.

Kids rolled out a clay slab and then draped it over a plaster egg mold form. Once the kids had the slab draped over the egg form, they cut around it, leaving a rim so they have an area to stamp textures or add spriggs. This rim also adds visual weight to the mask. They then created geometric forms for the facial parts and poked a pencil hole or tool through the mask to create negative spaces. These negative spaces are a small detail, but they make the masks look more animated, which is a quality found in African masks.

The last feature the kids created was the horns. Many African masks contain features inspired by animals. Kids made clay cones and then rolled them on some rubber textured matts creating a variety of textures.

I teach this project to 5th and 6th grade students, but have also had success with it at the junior high level. I have made larger masks with kids in the past, but it takes forever to get them all through the kiln. These masks aren't scaled to fit over a life-size face but do give the kids experience in working with the formal qualities found in African masks.