Clovis Christian junior Jessica Tivis watches guest instructor Louise Harrison work on her clay mask Wednesday afternoon. Harrison is one of the professional artists Patsy Delk invites to teach her art students. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
A student pauses from her work and stares down at the face emerging from her slab of clay.” Is my face big enough?” she asks.
“Sure,” her instructor answers. “There are all kinds of faces.”
In this art class, students are learning art is personal.
“I want my students to have their own creative mindset,” said Patsy Delk, an art teacher at Clovis Christian School.
To teach her students, Delk has turned to professional artists in Clovis.
Today, that artist is Louise Harrison. The local floral shop owner makes art from clay, watercolors, oils and even cardboard.
Her assignment for about 20 students in Delk’s class: Mold a face from clay. Her tools: Fishing line coiled around two wooden blocks, sheets of crumpled newspaper, plastic forks, pipes and clay.
The fishing line is a knife. The students use it to slice through the mound of brick-colored clay, forming slabs. The pipes are rolling pins. The students use them to flatten their slabs. With the forks, the students dig holes for features, and with newspaper, they form chins and noses.
“You don’t have to buy expensive tools to create art,” Delk, 50, said.
“You’d be surprised at what you can make with things around your house,” added Harrison, who, as a child, painted with charcoal she plucked from her fireplace.
Raised on a farm along the Pecos River, Harrison rarely used fancy tools as a novice artist.
“The water (of the Pecos) used to run so clear you could see where the balls of red clay would catch on the bank. So, I have played with clay all of my life,” said Harrison, 74.
“Clay,” the artist said tenderly, “smells like a newly plowed field.”
In addition to sculpting clay, students in Delk’s advanced art class will learn to paint with acrylics, decorate cakes, make backdrops for theater productions, construct a mosaic and create themed chairs, according to Delk. Professional artists will show them how, Delk said.
Delk believes art should be cemented in school curricula, along with math, social studies and English.
“Art is how we express ourselves,” she said.
But in school districts where budgets are tight, art programs are often endangered, according to local educators. One superintendent in a nearby rural school district recently reported she has been forced to look for outside funding to keep art programs in her district alive.
Delk said she often relies on local donations to gather supplies for her classroom projects.
When students meet local artists, Delk said they are more likely to understand art can also translate into a career.
Yet, art, like other subjects, is not for everyone.
Will Delk’s student Daniel Garcia pursue a career in art? “Probably not,” the 18-year-old said.
“I don’t want to work with clay today. It makes my hands all gross,” another student said.
Meanwhile, others in this class are engrossed in their creations.
“I love (art),” said Jessica Tivis, 16. “It develops your mind in a different way.”
As Harrison puts it, “Art is very important. You don’t even dress yourself without the aid of some artistic sensibility.”