Make a Mask with Kanika - A Day to Play with Clay

It was just supposed to be an art show celebrating Black History Month.  The Branch Manager at the Elk Grove Library just wanted her library users to have the opportunity to see some black-oriented art in her beautiful new library at the edge of old town Elk Grove, California.  But she and I were concerned that few people would visit the show in their community room.  Neither one of us wanted me to be sitting there, probably mostly by myself, for six hours. So we talked about making this a hands-on event: "Make a Mask with Kanika."  I would bring some clay and let people carve a little mask. Simple, right?  Well . . . because we advertised the event on Facebook, through the local newspaper, to hundreds of people on my e-newlsetter mailing list, and in the library itself, it did not turn out to be a simple day.

The night before, I spent about one hour rolling out mask forms, about eight clay blanks on each of six cookie sheets.  I wanted the very soft clay to set up a bit so that it was "leather hard" and better able to be carved.  I also brought an additional 100 pounds of clay in case we ran out (which we did) and/or people wanted to roll out their own pieces from scratch (which many did).  OK, the prep was done and the car loaded up by 8:30 Friday night.  I spent the rest of the evening watching the Olympics.

On Saturday morning at about 8:00 AM, my son, Matthew, got out of his warm bed and helped me to set up my art display at the library starting at 8:30 AM.  Pat had also asked one of her student volunteers to help me set up the room (thank you!)

I had carefully planned to use four long tables for the attendees, and a fifth one for me.  We put two chairs at each table, but I knew that we could fit one more on the other side of each table if we needed to, for a maximum of 12 people who could make a mask at the same time.  I had brought some plastic table cloths to protect the table-top surfaces, an 8.5" x 11" piece of cardboard and a small sponge for each station, and a bowl of water and spray bottle for each table. I also put out lots of assorted tools at each station that could be used to make textures on the clay.

We set up three more tables on the opposite side of the room for my three-dimensional sculptures, African art books, Kanika portfolios, autograph book, and business cards and postcards.

We also set up information from "I Made It" and "Alpha Ceramics", local businesses who would let attendees glaze/color their masterpieces and could fire the masks for a small price.  OK, by 10 AM I was ready. And the people started coming.  And they came and they came all day long!  In fact, all of the following pictures were taken between 10:30 and 11:30 AM or so, because after that the crowd was huge and I only had time to work with them on making their masks.

But by noon, new people were coming far faster than the old people were leaving. So three more long tables had to be set out, handling four people each. And I had to divvy up the tools I brought.  From about noon to 3:00 PM, I was attempting to assist up to 20 people at a time who wanted to learn how to make a mask.  From the youngest of about two years of age, to many teenagers, to many middle-agers, to several older folks like me, it was a fun and free-wheeling time in the Elk Grove Library Community Room today!!!  Pat kept coming in and marveling with me about how successful the event was.

Thank goodness for the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who brought refreshments!  I was so busy from 10 AM to 3:30 PM that I only had time to drink about 1/2 cup of water and eat two cookies brought by the Deltas.  I didn't realize how hungry and thirsty I was until I got into my car to come home!

So after putting away the sculptures, taking a shower, and eating some quickly-prepared dinner, I reflected on what made the day so special.  They are in no particular order, as follows:

*The weather was sunny and bright, no rain in sight as was prophesied by the weather people.

* Many of my customers and friends came to support me and find out how the sculptures are made.

* Each attendee used the clay in amazing ways, either by creating extraordinary textures on the clay or great shapes.  One lady made several parts for what will be her entry into the 2010 Art Bra Show in honor of breast cancer. One lady made a face sculpture on the back of a spoon and an amazingly delicate filigree design for the headdress.  An initially-reluctant father jumped in and made a cool mask to show his little girls that he was as cool as they were in making a mask.  One lady made the most beautiful small face (I later found out she too had taken numerous clay classes from Cosumnes River College Art Director, Yoshio Taylor).  Another lady made a heart but added numerous additional hearts overlapping the first one.  Another lady decided to try a bowl form.  So many ideas that I cannot list all of them.

* The children were ALL so polite, whether their parents were around or not. None were goofing off, yet they all had a ball making masks and other clay forms.  Their level of creativity was amazing.

* Pat and one of her star employees helped me break down the display. I felt a little bad for the janitor because many of the black chairs were covered with grey-colored clay and the floors would need cleaning.

* All ethnicities and religious persuasions were represented by the attendees.  There was amazing harmony in that room.

* Everyone really seemed to get a great deal from their hands-on experience. And that's what my primary goal was!  I left the library with a sense of hopefulness and excitement that so many people were turned on to clay!

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