At Honolulu Waldorf School, all students participate in ceramics from grades 9–12. The senior bust project is the creative capstone to the process of discovery the students have embarked on.

Sculpting self

Summit + Honolulu Waldorf School

Date
Oahu K-12 Schools
Place ʻĀina Haina
Text Ikaika Hussey
Art Ikaika Hussey
Thread School of the Future

At Honolulu Waldorf School, the goal in educating each child is to help them find meaning, passion and purpose in life, and to contribute to the creation of a better world for all. Through a curriculum based on the developmental stages of the human being and on the integration of art and academics, Waldorf children learn to meet the world with clear and creative thinking, compassion and moral strength, and with the courage and freedom to act.

The Waldorf commitment to experiential learning runs throughout the curriculum at Honolulu Waldorf School, a private co-educational high school in Niu Valley. Head of School Dr. Jocelyn Romero Demirbag explains that the devotion to arts is grounded in research that shows learning that involves pictures, images and “doing” helps students retain and understand what they are being taught in a deeper way than they would by simply reading about it.

“The arts also require non-linear thinking. They require students to pay attention to what their gut and intuition tell them,” says Demirbag. “So when students learn through the arts, they are becoming aware of their inner voice—the voice they have come to give to the world.”

The Waldorf tradition aims to develop the artistic, emotional and moral aspects of a child, to compensate for a dominant society which pays singular concern to intellect. Arts, for Waldorf, becomes a way for students to shape their own identities. Students in Lynn Liverton’s sculpture class have literally done that, creating incredible busts which are on display throughout campus.

Summit sat down with Liverton to talk more about the ceramic program and the developmental journey the students take while participating in the arts.

Summit (S): Tell me about your philosophy when it comes to teaching ceramics to your students.

Lynn Liverton (LL): The key reason we cultivate artistic development among our students is because the arts are critical to helping children along their process of self-discovery. In doing so, we’re also shaping their artistic skills and allowing them to explore the bounds of their imaginations, but the real, universally applicable lesson we’re teaching through that artistic development is about growing and maturing as an individual, through a deeper understanding of self and of the world around them.

S: How do you achieve that? What is the trajectory through the four-year program?

LL: Because I get to have the students for four years, I get to know them better and can be a bigger help in shaping them as they move toward adulthood, and it allows me to create a curriculum that builds on itself and really provides a deeper and a richer experience. The trajectory of their artistic development is aimed at building up the skills required to complete a self-portrait in their senior year. And that’s not an easy thing to create.

When they start off, most of them haven’t had much experience working with wet clay, so that first year is really about learning what the clay can and cannot do; the strengths and limitations of the medium. They learn about moisture concentration, they learn about the importance of making your ceramic piece the right thickness; different techniques for creating ceramics, including hand-shaping versus the wheel—all those sorts of technical things.

Sophomore year, they develop depth in their art, and gain a greater understanding of modeling their piece after what they see in front of them. The biggest training of all is really teaching them to use the observational skills they’ve been cultivating through their whole careers at Waldorf—to apply that skill to the medium of clay.

S: What are some of the things you have them do to accomplish that?

LL: One of the big things I have them do that year is model their hand using observational skills. They take a plaster cast of their hand, and use that to practice objective observation and careful recording of the three-dimensional object into a new medium. After they do the hand accurately, we add in a healthy dash of creativity by asking them to create a hand in the process of metamorphosis. So the hand has to morph into something else partway through. For instance, their hand could turn into a bell pepper. That’s a great project because it combines their observational skill—and that hand is a hard thing to model—with their imagination. It’s also, on a subconscious level almost, a way to make the students more aware of their own hand—it’s the appendage that they are using to create their artwork, and they should be as familiar with it as they can.

In the junior year, they create a full body sculpture that can be hollowed out; and the key is that it has to have drapery on it, because I want them to really focus on light in their junior year. I want them to practice techniques for capturing and reflecting light off of the three-dimensional shapes they are creating from the clay. I want them to really see how light interacts with three-dimensional objects. I’ve had students do seated Buddha figures, Southern Bell ball gown figures, togas and more. That project gets them understanding the human body’s proportions and anatomy, so they know that the width of the shoulders should be three-heads; that the length from the wrist to the elbow is the same as the length of the arm from elbow to shoulder.

Then, in twelfth grade, they finally move on to the head. And they have a choice of doing life-size or smaller. The best part of this project is that it teaches them to look at themselves objectively. It’s a little hard at first, because they can be a little judgmental of themselves, but when they finally let that go, then they become accepting of themselves for who they are at the same time that they are advancing, artistically, and mastering their ability to be objective with the world around them, it’s a really cool thing to witness.

It’s incredibly difficult to do a self-portrait objectively; the human instinct is to create a kind of so-called ideal rendition; to modify. You are your best model, because you’re so available, but, at the same time, even with a mirror or a photo, which can reflect or represent the three-dimensional world around us, you never can really see the entirety of your whole body in three-dimensions. So it’s a real challenge for them, but it’s an awesome thing to see when they finally break through.

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