A tonne of clay to inspire children’s arts week

Three Southampton primary schools took part in a joint arts week from June 27th until 1st of July. The young pupils explored a wide variety of artistic techniques, from two-dimensional drawings to three-dimensional modelling. MBH PLC was approached to widen the experiential and learning opportunity with the intention of enabling children to explore physical clay modelling skills. This offered the opportunity to handle clay in its raw form, building an understanding of its properties, purposes and where it comes from. The British manufacturer jumped at the chance to enrich the experience for the little craftsmen of the future, and quickly donated a tonne of clay, delivered on three pallets to the school car park, in time for arts week to commence.

In Victorian times when Bursledon was a functioning Brickworks, employees would often pick out fossils by hand from the 50-million-year old site, reducing the risk of firing defects when the clay would be heated by the kilns. The theme was therefore centred on dinosaurs, creating mark making tracks, bones, eggs, fossils, tiles and a big clay frieze, to be exhibited in the stairwell at the school in a permanent display. 

Teacher Hollie Calton said: “Holy Family Catholic School, Sinclair Primary & Nursery School and Bitterne Park Primary School have been enriched by the whole experience and look forward to building on the close links with Bursledon Brickworks and MBH PLC. Our children benefitted from real, hands-on experiences and knowledge of their local history. They worked with raw materials, allowing them to physically engage with local recycled clay. The availability of this material meant that our children were forthcoming in discussions on materials and their ever-changing properties.” 

From four year olds in reception up to eleven year olds in year six, there was enough clay to enable each child to take a lump of the material back to their desk. This was theirs to work with for the whole week, inspiring very exciting and unusual ideas when modelling.  They worked their way through the clay, pulling off chunks to create the dinosaur themed tasks. They all took away amazing memories and an appreciation of clay, its textures and processes.

Matt Grace, also a teacher in the arts department at the School, said: “The tonne of free clay formed the base of the week whilst the children also explored other activities such as dance, drama, music and large scale modelling. Many children said that the clay modelling was the best part of the week. Handling the clay in its raw form allowed the children to really understand where it has come from as well as getting very messy in the process, they then took their clay dinosaurs home to show them off to their families. A child told me “I loved playing with the clay because it was really squishy.” It has been really helpful to have access to this huge supply of clay during our arts Week. Without this amount of material the children would have had a week based mainly on drawing so this has really opened up what they can achieve in art and how exciting art can be.”

By the end of the week the children had created over 1000 tiles, which will be fired at Bursledon Brickworks and returned to the Schools. The children found the unique clay from MBH PLC’s Michelmersh plant in Romsey lovely to handle, with its wonderfully soft and tactile consistency, renowned for its rich vibrant fired orange and red colours.  The manufacturer hopes that as the children travel through life they will be more likely to notice the architecture that surrounds them, considering the materials used in their creation.

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