The magic of clay: Koontz, Hanford Dole students participate in artist residency
By Katie Scarvey
There are a lot of turtles in Hanford Dole Elementary School’s future.
About 100 clay turtles were created during an artist residency at the school in the last week of May, and they’ll be assembled into a permanent mural sometime this summer.
The visiting artist was Senora Lynch, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe from Warrenton. Lynch also spent an additional week, June 1-5, at Koontz Elementary School to do a similar art project with students there. A total of about 200 students took part.
Art teacher Brenda Gariepy, who splits her time between Koontz and Hanford Dole, wrote the grant that funded the residency. Funding came from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Rowan Arts Council and the school system.
The Saponi Indians are the “people from the red clay,” Lynch told the Hanford Dole fourth-graders ó who were working with just that.
She showed students the pottery pieces she had created and explained the symbolism of the images. The lizard, students learned, symbolizes alertness. Corn is the staff of life, while tobacco symbolizes friendship and arrows represent the warrior or the protector. And the turtles? They stand for long life and are considered a clan animal, she said.
Students were then given little pots of white “slip,” or liquid clay, with which to coat the surface of their turtles. The next step: carving designs, selecting among the symbols that Lynch had explained to them.
Earlier in the week, students had designed and cut out their turtles ó each one unique.
Gariepy was thrilled with how the first week of Lynch’s residency was working out.
“There’s so much history, science and math involved,” she said. “The whole curriculum is wrapped up in this week.”
Fourth-graders study North Carolina history, which includes native American history.
“That’s why I chose this subject matter,” Gariepy says. “Native American history hasn’t been highlighed a lot. I think it’s important to showcase the culture here,” she said.
The finished turtles were fired in the school’s kiln, which was donated by the Robertson Foundation.
Lynch was recently named artist of the year at the North Carolina State Fair, an honor she is particularly proud of since the title is chosen by the craftspeople who participate.
Basketmaking was her first experience with art, Lynch says. Her mother used to send her to her grandfather’s house to help him craft baskets. Later, she learned how to do beadwork, and then in 1992, she began to work seriously with clay. That same year, she was awarded a “best in show” award and $1,000 at a national Native American competition.
One day, while at the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro, Lynch was showing her wares and doing a demonstration when art center director Mary Young told her, “You’ve got to come to our schools.”
She did, and now, she’s a frequent visitor at schools around Greensboro and Raleigh. She does artist residencies and speaks about native American history and culture, hoping to dispel stereotypes and inspire creativity.
“It goes well with fourth-grade history,” Lynch says of the Native American themes that are her focus. The students, she says, “get to learn about native American culture and also have fun working with clay.”
“I think clay is magical,” she said as she circulated around the room, overseeing the students’ work.
“It is,” agreed Kayla Evans.