Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wobbly Pots and Homelessness

Here is a picture of the potter's wheel I drove down to pick up in Blantyre. The wheelhead spins, although it is not level. I'm actually excited to see how the imprecise construction of the wheel will influence and shape the work I make on it. It is a single speed, unbelievably heavy, and unnecessarily ugly. I haven't used it yet; I'm waiting for a man at the college to come and grease it up--it's been sitting outside for almost four years, unused.
Marley's parents and brother and sister are coming on Saturday, and we cannot wait. It may be the most exciting thing to happen since we have been here. We still can't believe they're coming! Marley's parents will be bringing some of my pottery tools; my loving wife left all of them in Brookhaven the day we left for Africa. For some reason, I wasn't upset, and then, when we arrived, I really wasn't upset. I immediately realized that not having my pottery tools was the least of my problems. School is going O.K. for the both of us. I'm preparing for the International Day Art Sale. Below is a picture of my "office" which existed from around October until November 16, 2008. You can see from the top of the tent that part of the frame which supports the tarp is broken, and no longer extends the tarp up and flat. Well, the rainy season began this past weekend, with two all-night rains. The rains collected in that cavity on the right side of the tarp and ultimately crushed the tent. I probably could have prevented it. So, I'm homeless and on the road again, and this space in between these classrooms looks sad and empty, the grass worn in two patches where I sat and prepared paper and paint and worked and read and drank coffee in between classes. All that remains are the pink and blue bookcases, and a few plastic buckets of clay. It sounds funny, but that really was my office and my classroom, and it is really discouraging to have lost it.
On the left you can see the cart that Gilbert Mdembo made for me. At least I still have my cart.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Home Sweet Home?


This is the new Guest Lodge up at the top of the African Bible College Campus. The finishing touches are still being applied. The school's vision is bigger than the college's construction crew, so ABC has temporarily converted half of the new lodge into the Preschool. I meet with twelve 3-year-olds for thirty minutes, twice a week. I feel more professionally unprepared with this group than any other on campus. Fortunately, this group is the least judgmental, and the most cheerful one on campus.Below are Hyun, and Clara.

I also posted these pictures of the lodge (and guest houses to the left) because I love the architecture and the materials used to construct these buildings. It is an amalgamation of building techniques, both old and new, traditional and modern. The walls are constructed out of bricks made in small batches both inside and outside of the city. These stacks are seen everywhere, both in Lilongwe, and out in the villages. I'm pretty sure each family produces its own bricks. These mud-bricks are made by forming the wet mud with a simply made wood and mesh wire mold. The bricks are stacked in what is called (at least by Westerners') a "scove kiln." Malawians fire the stacks by stoking the openings in the bottom with wood for about seven or eight hours. This creates a brittle stack of bricks inconsistent in their strength and porosity, but consistently beautiful and varied.
This structure of the roof is made of bamboo, blue gum trees, and then thatched on top with grasses, and finally shaped with a plane, I think? I love these buildings.

Pinch Pots and "Mixed-Color Paintings"

I found about a hundred pounds of clay in one of the junior high closets when I first arrived. Over the last few months, in my constant hunt for materials, I realized I had the few things I would need to mix the clay. The first graders, third graders, and fourth graders made coil and pinch pots, which was bitter sweet. I was so happy to be using what felt like my medium, and I felt confident and at ease all week. It was painful to wedge clay and then give it away. I wanted to go make a refined, thoughtful dinnerware set, but instead, we transformed it into the pots below. This is Sally Changaya, another bookmaking second grader.
Here is one of my fourth grade students, focused and intent on finishing his "Mixed Color Painting" while everyone else packed up to go home.
This is Charles, another fourth grader. He was reluctant to let me take his picture with his painting. He thought it was garbage; I loved it.
This is James, a South African, on the left, and Se-rem hiding on the right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bookmaking and Plein Air

These are pictures of my students. I'm looking over one of my second grader's shoulders while he and his classmates are making books. This book project was a collaboration between me and the two second grade teachers. The books haven't been completed yet. We worked on them for at least four or five weeks. I think the second graders were ready to kill me. The last bit of work is for me to do. I'm going to sew up their signatures, cover the boards, and laminate their dust jackets.
I'm developing my philosophy and approach to elementary art everyday. I feel that each time I meet with these students I'm sending them down one of two paths: one ends at the steps of the Met or the Louvre, the other, the automatic sliding doors of Wal-Mart. (Not that there are Wal-Marts in Malawi.) The two things that I think influence and guide them on this journey is my choice of materials and the way in which I encourage them to work and think. I rarely feel successful, and I have not yet found very many inspiring and beautiful materials.

If this boy keeps thinking this way, by third grade he'll be ready for his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design--his book is about tigers, and so he has incorporated that element even into the letters of the title.
This is Hannah. I love this child.
Mikey, from Zimbabwe I think. He is in the four-year-old Reception class.
Kondwani(left) and Emma(right), also in the Reception class. Kondwani often comes to visit me in my "office" after school, demanding supplies like paper, clay, and sticks.
From left to right: Al-baatin, Megan, Vandell, and Zobran. Megan hangs on to me constantly, which makes me wish (even more) that I was a father tomorrow with lots of girls.