Sculpting Stories: Reliquaries for a Stranger

Students will design sculptures to visually encapsulate the stories that they've collected through interviewing strangers.

Photo of Lane Laney

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In the art room, we ask students to reflect on their personal experiences on an almost daily basis.  We push them to embed those experiences into their art making practices.  Students are often looking inward, which is an invaluable teaching tool, but through this project, we will ask students to anchor their art to the experiences of another human.

A reliquary is defined as a container for relics or objects that have been assigned special meaning.  Reliquaries, much like shrines, offer a physical space for people to pay homage to the past.  After interviewing a stranger (students will select interviewees that they feel need their stories told--i.e., the homeless population, residents in a nursing home, veterans), students will create reliquary sculptures that illustrate those stories.  Students will be asked to create thoughtful designs that act as “visual riddles” by integrating elements of the story into their sculptures.  Their designs should push the viewers to investigate the meaning and solve the “riddle.”

These reliquary sculptures will be constructed using clay hand building processes.  A mixture of sculpted, cast, and found objects will be used to fill the reliquaries and communicate meaning.  This project idea is still fairly amorphous and I am open to suggestions about how to match students with community members, using the best methods to gather these stories (telephone, google hangouts, face-to-face), finding ways to integrate discussions about empathy throughout the project, and how to create a culminating presentation or display that brings the students together with their storytellers to discuss the final work.

A few updates: 

Opening/Hook: I plan to bring in a speaker from the Department of Mental Health to discuss the correlation between the de-funding of mental health facilities and the homeless population in Columbia.  Through this discussion, students will explore how various groups and communities can become stigmatized.  They will use this as an opportunity to select a group within our community that they would like to interview.

Formulating Interview Questions: Students will prototype interview questions, working together to come up with the best questions to uncover stories and draw empathy.

Documenting the Process: Students will document the entire process using iPads.  They will record small clips of the prototyping experience, the interview, building the sculptures, etc.  Each student will cut together and edit their film for the final reception.

Reflection Through Artist Statements: Students will write artist statements that help viewers interpret their sculptures and solve the "visual riddles."  Students will also reflect on the process and the concept of empathy in these artist statements.  I hope that students can team up with an English class in our school to draft and edit these statements.

Presentation/Display: Final work will be displayed in glass cases that line our main hallway at Ridge View High School.  Artist statements and QR codes to student videos will appear alongside each artwork.  I would also like for students to organize an opening reception where we can invite school and community members, interviewees, families, etc.  

To collaborate with me on this project or give ideas/feedback, go to this document.

Featured images:

Pam Stern, Reliquary of Unread Books, 2016

Pam Stern, Oracle

Jenny Mastin, Reliquary , 2011

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Photo of Salena Potter

I'm looking for activities to create empathy awareness in a small group of students, grades 4-7, for a summer program. Sculpting Stories is an excellent idea, and one that this group will really love. Thank you for sharing!

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