Art History Students Investigate Prehistoric Techniques - Mid-Pacific Institute

The Arts News

Art History Students Investigate Prehistoric Techniques

Project-based art history! Students create ceramic replica artifacts to study ancient construction techniques.

Posted on January 17, 2017 by Scot Allen


Project-based art history! Students created ceramic replica artifacts to study ancient construction techniques.

Students in grades 11 & 12 have been acting as professional art historians, investigating questions around the evolution of human creativity. One essential question was, "what criteria determines whether or not an artifact is considered art?"

In researching some of the earliest known stone, ceramic, wood, and ivory/shell or textile objects, the students felt this question could best be addressed with these concepts: human exploration/migration, evolution of skills and materials, intention, expression, and contextual perception.

To deepen the conversation, notable Hawaiian stone sculptor, Jerry Vasconcellos, visited the classroom to discuss stone as a material and how Paleolithic people may have worked with it. He shared a retrospective of his own work and invited students to experiment with tools and grinders. Each student was asked to bring a stone that they had collected from nature, and in examining its properties and characteristics, determine how it could, or should, be carved.

"It is best to be as true to the stone as possible," Vasconcellos said. "Let it participate in its creation. An artist can do this by being sensitive to its unique qualities or surfaces and allow it to retain its character. Avoid forcing the stone into a particular form as it will simply resist by breaking apart. I have always felt close to the ancients just in handling and working a stone. The ancients knew that certain stones were best for certain uses, and with a familiarity with stone that we commonly have lost, they thoughtfully chose a materials to fit a purpose."

Please click here to view a photo gallery of the visit.

Later in the course, students created ceramic replica artifacts. One goal in this project was to use ancient techniques, working to re-enact the process of construction as close to the original as possible. Students investigated what tools were available and how they were used. Some students worked to depict an historical narrative within the piece or purposely replicated it in it's damaged condition. Others worked to create the object as if it hadn't been damaged or broken, envisioning how the piece would have appeared to its creator. Another goal was to replicate the artifacts to scale, but some were intentionally scaled down, or enlarged for practical purposes. Notably, one student proactively taught herself how to throw on the wheel within two weeks so that her piece would be authentically replicated.


The finished projects.

-- Jill Johnson, High School Visual Arts Educator