School buildings are treasure-boxes of mysteries. Secret stairways, hidden corridors and underground tunnels are just some of the features that leaves students and alum curious about their locations and purposes. This is especially the case with historic schools from the late 1930s like Casimir Pulaski High.
One such mystery at the high school is the collection of faience tiles above the bubblers. Everything about the school building is designed so well that someone walking in the hallway may not even notice these tiles. However, upon close examination, it is easy to get lost in the pictorial adventure represented in these artworks.
How were these tiles created? Who made them? What story do they tell? These were questions that students explored in a tile-making workshop at this Milwaukee public school. Before quarantine initiated due to the coronavirus outbreak, Art teacher, Ms. Megan O'connell Tharpe and I teamed up on a lesson to create new tiles inspired by the old ones with her students.
Many of the students were talented artists and expressed interest in pursuing art after school! All the while, the students had confessed not having done much in clay before. Before I visited, O'Connell Tharpe introduced this new territory with her students. They experimented, played, and got their hands messy; the only way to start using clay!
When I visited, I presented the history about their extraordinary school building and its tiles. It was fun to share my enthusiasm for the building they call home. The students were interested to learn about their school and were excited for the hands-on activity that followed.
For many of the students, this was the first time they used clay for an assignment. Each pressed their own tile with a custom-made plaster mold. The design was a 5-inch circle similar to the 8-inch tiles in the hallway. The students were demonstrated how to carve the raised-line technique, however, they were given options with how to represent their desired image on to their tile.
Although the students never got the chance to glaze their tiles, they were able to finish carving their work before quarantine began. They did a stellar job! O'Connel Tharpe and I wanted to make sure the students got their work back but the thought of returning their tiles bisque-fired just seemed sad considering all the things happening in our lives. Furthermore, many of the students had graduated from high school too. Hence, I glazed their tiles before the end of the year when I was able to work in my school building again. Since then O'Connell Tharpe has been returning them to her artists. We are so proud of them!
Please enjoy the collection of faience tiles created by students at Casimir Pulaski High, inspired by their very own school.
Adventures and reflections on the ornament and craft of architectural terra cotta in the majestic Midwest by Ben Tyjeski.