Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oscar's Clay

Oscar loves to work with clay.  Last year, in second grade, his teacher integrated clay work into so many aspects of the curriculum that by year's end his dresser top was full of projects -- owls, butterflies, a frog sitting on a lily pad, and a clog-like shoe to name a few. He's most proud of his bowl though, the one he made for soup days at school.  He etched the names of his favorite animals into the center and glazed it orange, his favorite color. 

Art was something I'd written off as a goal back in kindergarten or probably before.  As a preschooler, Oscar was never that interested and his fine motor skills and executive functioning deficiencies always seemed to get in the way of starting (or finishing) a project.  Aside from some finger painting as a toddler he pretty much avoided the art scene.

Until kindergarten.  I clearly remember telling his kindergarten teacher that we should just skip the drawing stuff and focus on letter formation.  Thankfully she didn't take me seriously.  It took a lot of behavioral and OT work, but by the end of that year Oscar was drawing simple figures and loving the twice weekly kindergarten art class.  The lower grade art specialist told me several times a month how much she enjoyed working with Oscar and how he seemed to have "an eye".  She'd pull me into the art room before school and dig through the piles to find Oscar's piece and point out her favorite parts of his work.  His work was always more rudimentary, more spare, than the other kids but she'd see past that and focus on what was there, in a way I couldn't before.  She'd worked with kids with disabilities before and had that ever-precious skill of knowing when and just how hard to push. Oscar responded to her approach and started to love art.

Now a 3rd grader, art is one of Oscar's favorite things about school.  He's gone from hiding under the tables when the markers come out to jump-up-and-down-excited.  I wish I could take some credit for his enthusiasm or skill -- but I'm pretty sure he got his genes from his Nana, who is a painter, and his Grandpa, who is a sculptor.

When he heard that his now-retired 2nd grade teacher was offering an afterschool clay class he begged me to sign him up.  Oscar so rarely insists like this so I was inclined to honor the request.  But the logistics were complicated as usual.  He'd have to skip his nap, and he would need an aide  -- to meet him after school, give him his snack and then escort him to class where he'd need help staying on task.  He would need an aide to answer his never-ending questions and talk him through the inevitable anxious moments or meltdowns.  And I really wanted that aide to be able to drive him home too so I didn't have to schlep across town yet again.

While I sat spinning my wheels, the clay teacher herself steered a former student - now a high school senior who drives -- in my direction.  (Oh how I love our school community!)  So every Monday afternoon Oscar stays after school for clay class and I get to spend an extra hour or so with just Ruby who craves that "special time".  Oscar comes home exhausted but sated.  It's a great set-up, and I've been so caught up congratulating myself that I finally have some after-school things going and time alone with Ruby that I really didn't think too much about what Oscar was actually doing in class.

So, I was rather surprised when I saw Oscar's pieces in the Clay Show today. It's clear he had some help.  And yet, the pieces are also so very Oscar.

Here is Oscar's heart -- filled with the carefully etched names of his favorite animals, just like his soup bowl. I knew our aide was a good fit when she told me how hard Oscar worked on this heart and that he was very anxious that it wasn't red enough. "If he asks," she said, "just tell him it's VERY red."  Exactly, I thought. 

And here are Oscar's hands. We all love the hands. Even Abe went on and on at dinner tonight about how awesome they are while Oscar sat straighter and straighter and nodded proudly in Abe's direction. And they are definitely Oscar's -- so thin and delicate with those inexplicably curved fingers.  He told me he picked the glaze closest to his own skin color.  "Yes, you, after a month in Hawaii," I joked with him, but he didn't get it. That's ok.

And, finally, the proud artist!  Artist.  I never thought.


  1. This post makes me cry and smile. Happy tears. Art is very precious to me. I have key moments in my life when art was very much present and important.

    Oscar's art sculpting is fabulous. You know, I can see a gallery happening somewhere in your house and soon!

    This was a wonderful post!

  2. He IS talented! What a gift this class must be, on so many levels. It allows him independence, in-depth study in an art he loves, tactile stimulation and a creative outlet.

    I was a fine art major in college, and am not very talented, but I still believe that it's a vital part of life, like music. The fact that you have two professional artists in the family makes it even more natural - it's part of his heritage. And it may well help develop those motor skills, while giving him great joy.
    I love the hands and the snakes, but his heart captured mine. Congratulations, Oscar! What a great art show.

  3. Wonderful! I love the snakes; and I love how you make room for a wide variety of activities to meet all of your children's needs in your already busy life. You're amazing!

  4. isn't it amazing how our children can surprise us. as i'm sure much of your time with Oscar is taken up with knowing exactly what he will do and what he needs, it must have been lovely to have been so surprised by him. and his talents! lovely post.

  5. Okay, it's 6:30 am and I'm bawling. I'm so proud of him, and so very happy for him (and for all of you).

    That kind of teacher is such a gift. I'm so glad that Oscar has been able to tap into this passion. He's really talented! (Like his mama...)

  6. I love this story. I love Oscar's effort and enthusiasm and how the pieces came together for you. And I love his heart.