Clay Sculpture: Pre-Columbian Animal Effigies

We study ancient artifacts to learn more about the cultures that created them. Ancient works of art feature
  • religious and cultural symbolism
  • scenes from daily life
  • stories of personal or cultural history
From these artifacts we can learn many things about a group of people, including clues about: * what they ate (farmed or hunted)
  • who thier leaders were
  • how they interacted with other groups
  • how the society fucntioned
  • their religion

< Mayan Burial Urn
Late CLassic Period, 650-850 AD

YOUR artwork tells a story about you, and what you value. For this assignment, you will create your own artifact. Like those in ancient civilizations, your sculpture will be a functional item as well as an expression of ideas.

For our first clay project, we will study Pre-Columbian Animal Effigies.
  • "Pre-Columbian" refers to people and cultures who existed in the Americas before the influence of Western culture, or more spefically, the arrival of Christopher Columbus. This page focuses on the Pre-Columbian artwork of South, Central, and Meso-America. We usually think of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas, but many civilizations flourished all over these areas at this time.

  • An Animal Effigy is 3-dimensional representation (symbol) of an animal.
    • In Pre-Columbian sculpture, we see many human and animal effigies, as well as froms that are a combination of hum and animal, often with important spiritual significance.

  • The Pre-Columbians chose the animals that were important to them to use in their art.
    • -These animals have symbolic meanings. For example:
    • -The jaguars are fierce and powerful, like their powerful rulers were.
    • -They had dogs as pets like we do, so they included them in their art. Some cultures thought dogs guided the souls of people who had died. They placed these dog sculptures in tombs.
    • -Camels were used for transportation.
    • -Llamas provided them with wool for clothes.
Take a look at these examples:

Pataky Polychrome Jaguar Vessel
Nicaragua, 1000-1500 AD
Bat Effigy Incense Burner
Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala
Mayan, Early Classic (250-600 AD)

All of the sculptures the sculptures that you see here are functional: they serve a purpose other than pure decoration.
-The Pre-Columbians made sculptures that served as bowls, jars, funerary urns, and musical instruments.
-This was not just to make them beautiful! Each item has important symbolic significance, and tells us something about the Pre-Columbian culture.

Your Assignment:
Create your own animal effigy artifact, using the same techniques as the ancient Pre-Columbians
This will be a functional sculpture! For the first project, we will be making rattles.

Size Requirement:
You must have a fully finished sculpture with at least 5 three-dimensional elements added
You must include 2 types of texture

Use of Materials:
Use all materials properly, and clean up your workspace every single day.

Your sculpture should be neat and clean, with no messy connections, cracks, or blobs of clay.
tip: Be careful and take your time when adding elements and creating details!

Demonstrate skill with hand-building techniques to execute your idea
Correctly follow the steps for adding elements (score/slip/squish/smooth)
Make sure you have a functional piece!

Create a concept for your artifact: what does it represent? why did you choose this? how will surface texture and decoration add to your artifact?
Your sculpture should be your own creative design!
Use inspiration from the Pre-Columbians and your own life to create a modern-day artifact that expresses your concept!

Student Examples:
Wolf Effigy Rattle, by Christina
Owl Effigy Rattle, by Megan
Elephant Effigy Rattle, by Kamri
Chicken Effigy Rattle, by Lili
Fennec Fox Effigy Rattle, by Ben
Owlet Effigy Rattle, by Olivia
Polar Bear Effigy Rattle, by Naomi
Penguin Effigy Rattle, by Emma
Mythological Effigy Rattle, by Rachel

Penguin Effigy Rattle, by Tallia
Frog Effigy, by Savita
Artifact: an item created/used by another culture
Pre-Columbian: before the influence of Western Culture (before arrival of Christopher Columbus)
Animal Effigy:a 3-D symbol representing an animal
Texture: how a surface feels
Functional: serves a purpose, other than pure decoration. For example: pottery and musical instruments are functional as well as decorative.
Score: to scratch the clay surface. This increases surface area and gives the clay little "fingers" that will grab each other.
Slip: liquid clay. This makes the clay sticky so that its scored surfaces will bond together.
Leather Hard: the state that clay reaches when it is partially dry, but not birttle and dusty. This is perfect for carving details.
Bone Dry: completely dray, with no moisture. Clay will no longer feel cold to the touch, and will be pale and chalky in color.
Kiln: a giant oven-like structure that fires the clay. It is built from fire brick, allowing the inside to reach super-high temps without burning down the school.

Links to Explore:
Moche Decorated Ceramics

Barvier-Mueller Pre-Columbian Art Museum