To artist Annamarie Gundlach, clay is the perfect medium for children.
“Children go with clay like peanut butter and jelly. It’s one way they can have a sense of accomplishment,” Gundlach said. “It doesn’t require fine motor skills. The more they do, the more they get a sense of accomplishment.”
Gundlach is serving as an artist-in-residence at Mary Blount Elementary School, working with art teacher Heather Woods.
Woods said Gundlach is at the school on a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. “With her being able to work with the rest of the class, that allows me to work one-on-one with students,” she said. “Over three hours you get a chance for each student to work on the wheel.”
Woods said with Gundlach helping her, they have been able to work with the students as they created clay masks, clay-covered books, Christmas ornaments and clay wreaths. Every class gets to do at least one clay project.
Mary Blount has a pottery wheel and kiln in the art room, a luxury most elementary schools don’t have, Gundlach said. Woods said having Gundlach in class allows her to take advantage of that positive, giving her time to give more individual attention while at the same time having a true artist in class to work and share with students.
Having a kiln in class also helps with exposing more students to clay. “If they want to pursue it in middle school or high school, they have a taste of what it’s like,” Woods said. “A lot of kids have never had this opportunity.”
Gundlach said this is the tenth year she’s received an artist-in-residence grant from the state. The program isn’t about putting all the teaching responsibility on the visiting artist. “It’s a collaboration with the teacher,” Gundlach said of the program.
Gundlach worked with students for the first and second nine weeks, Woods said.
Gundlach said she and Woods discuss what Woods wants to focus on before they apply for a grant.
“This year, it was clay. Last year it was honoring Tennessee’s native sons and daughters. I love it. I love working with Heather,” Gundlach said. “She has wonderful control, and the children really respect her. It makes it easier to convey the joy of art. We don’t have discipline problems. It’s really gratifying. It makes me feel so good.”
Gundlach, who has been doing clay for more than 30 years, said it’s important for the students to be able to work with an artist or get exposed to different mediums of art.
“When an art teacher has a visiting artist, it makes it easier to turn clay because clay is a process, and children have to understand how to work with it,” she said. “If they don’t understand, it’s a disaster. You must learn the basics. It’s chemistry, art and problem solving. If you don’t have the basics down, it’s a disaster.”
Gundlach said the workmanship with the clay creations she saw from the students was excellent. In each of her residencies, the students have exhibited their work at the Blount County Public Library. “People are amazed at what the children create.”
Gundlach is accustomed to teaching students of all ages. She has taught at the Knoxville Museum of Art for 10 years.
Gundlach said she and Woods teach other art projects besides those related to clay to expose the students new ideas.
Gundlach said clay also teaches spatial skills. The medium also fosters the children’s imaginations. “I’m always so pleased they are allowed to be original. There are no cookie cutter type things,” she said.
Fifth grader Chase Vigh said he enjoyed working with clay as he put finishing touches on his bowl.
“It was awesome,” Vigh said. “I liked getting dirty, so it was fun. I made a bowl that I’m probably going to give to my mom. I’ll put candy in it.”