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Creativity flows from a lump of clay

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    Alan Johnson of Maumee works on a sculpture.

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    Joe Ann Cousino, left, addresses her class as model Bridget Copeland Harris poses at the School of Art and Design at the Toledo Museum of Art.

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Joe Ann Cousino, left, addresses her class as model Bridget Copeland Harris poses at the School of Art and Design at the Toledo Museum of Art.

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A slab of clay can hold an inherent suggestion for the right manipulator.

Unlike a bothersome vein of clay detected by a gardener s shovel, a glob of smooth, dense, earth can provide hours of relaxation, creativity, challenge, perhaps even vexation in the hands of the right person.

Clay is an ancient, beautiful medium, notes Joe Ann Cousino, a sculptor.

They say it s harder than drawing or painting. Students not only have to look at it from one view, they have to look at it from many views.

Ms. Cousino, 81, has offered a weekly clay-sculpting class in her meticulous basement studio for about 30 years. She also teaches a clay class focusing on the human form at the Toledo Museum of Art s School of Art and Design. Trying to replicate the body is an overwhelming prospect for most students.

The first thing I teach them is where the point of balance is. It s behind the ear and flows down the body in a straight line to the ball of the foot.

Usually working with a live model, she uses masking tape to mark off head-length sections of the body, with the first section starting at the top of the head and ending at the chin. That divides the body into graspable portions.

Elaine Terman has participated in weekly sessions at Ms. Cousino s Ottawa Hills home for about 15 to 20 years.

It s a great creative outlet and it s good therapy as well. It s extremely relaxing and there s great camaraderie, said Ms. Terman, of West Toledo. The clay itself sometimes gives her an intuitive sense of how to proceed. There s a life to clay, there s a communication to it.

Over the years she has made several figures, small enough to be fired in Ms. Cousino s home kiln, and especially challenging because of the skill required to sculpt small hands, feet, and ears. She s also made a giant tea bag, complete with a string and tag, which she plans to display at her Sylvania cafe, Elaine s Tea Shoppe.

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Alan Johnson of Maumee works on a sculpture.

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Alan Johnson, of Maumee, is enrolled in Ms. Cousino s museum class this term. It s a respite from his day job as a computer designer of corrugated cardboard packaging at Pro-Pak Industries.

It s nice to use your hands and little tools, he said, appreciating that clay is a forgiving medium. It brings balance.

Ms. Cousino began teaching art as a student at Scott High School in the early 1940s and had a solo show in 1955. Her large bronzes have won national acclaim.

Her first major commission, 1974 s Woman with the Birds, took a year to complete and has become a signature piece for the Toledo Botanical Garden. Another, at the University Medical Center, is a 7-foot bronze of a young woman on whose outstretched hand a dove alights.

Contact Tahree Lane at:tlane@theblade.comor 419-724-6075.

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