- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

Dr. Howard Gelman sculpts clay similarly to how he shaped human beings. The retired Annapolis plastic surgeon needed something to do with his extra time. Because he had studied sculpting earlier in his life, he decided to start taking classes again. Dr. Gelman is enrolled in figure sculpture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Northwest. As part of the class, he has been using clay to sculpt the body of a man.
"You take pieces of clay and add them to each other to come up with the sculpture," Dr. Gelman says. "You have to have a critical eye to make things look natural and realistic."
Free-standing sculpture is usually made by two methods, either modeling or carving. Although sculptures traditionally were made from metal or stone, including marble, modern sculptors use a variety of materials, including clay and wood. Whatever the medium, teachers and students say sculpting gives them a unique way to express themselves.
Charles Flickinger, an instructor of figure-sculpture classes at the Corcoran and at the Art League in Alexandria, says his classes focus on modeling, which is an additive process of sculpting using soft materials, such as clay, plaster or wax.
The next portrait and figure-sculpture workshop at the Art League is scheduled for Dec. 14 and 15 and costs $150. The non-credit figure-sculpture course at the Corcoran costs $580 and lasts 13 weeks. The next course begins Feb. 5.
When beginning a sculpture, Mr. Flickinger instructs his pupils to make an armature, or support structure, for the clay, usually using wire, especially for larger projects. This frame prevents the material from collapsing while it is being shaped into its final form. Eventually, the clay hardens and becomes self-supporting, and the armature is removed.
After they have made an armature, he tells his students they need to learn to see closely what's in front of them. This involves observing the object being replicated, recognizing its proportions, shadows and gestures.
"Sculpting is an intense, scrutinizing process," he says. "You change one thing, and it changes everything. If you make a nose shorter on the face, you have to maybe shorten the face to match it. It's very engaging. It can be tough to get it right."
Upon completing a project, most of Mr. Flickinger's students fire their sculptures in the kiln. However, if the pupils use plastiline, an oil-based clay, they don't need to bake their creations.
He says he is proud of the results he has seen with his pupils.
"Many of them won't go on to become professional sculptors because they have jobs and careers, but they could," Mr. Flickinger says. "Some of them are quite good. Mostly, they are looking for an outlet, a way to express themselves."
Vivienne Johnson Kelley of Reston, who has taken portrait and figure-sculpture workshops with Mr. Flickinger at the Art League, says she likes portraying people she thinks deserve to be remembered. She recently finished immortalizing Ophelia Jackson of Northeast. She says Ms. Jackson has a beautiful voice and sings in several local Baptist churches.
"I like the spirit of people," Ms. Johnson Kelley says. "I like the way they come through the clay by their personality and their life force. They are inspiring."
Sarah Hoppe, who teaches clay sculpture at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in Southeast, says she enjoys the hands-on aspect of sculpting. In contrast, painting or drawing depends upon a paintbrush or pencil connecting with a canvas.
The next nine-week clay-sculpture class at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop begins today and costs $198 plus a $30 materials fee.
"It's a direct outflow from the hands to the medium," Ms. Hoppe says. "Some people find it therapeutic. The clay will bend and change with whatever their hands do."
Debra Soreff Jones, instructor of sculpture and ceramics at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, says children need exposure to creative activities just as much as adults. She says children definitely are capable of sculpting when taught properly.
She teaches various classes, such as sculpting for young children, which is for youngsters 3 to 6 years of age. The class, which costs $65 for members, runs from Jan. 29 through March 5. A class for non-members costs $50 and runs from Feb. 1 through 22. A $15 materials fee is due at the first class.
When instructing children about the "coil method," which American Indians often used to make their pottery, she tells them to roll the clay into long pieces in the shape of snakes. They can make multiple "snakes" and build them on top of each other.
"With an adult, you'd never use the word snake," she says. "With a child, you use the word snake, and it sticks a lot faster than if you used the word coil."
Sometimes clay sculptures are cast into a lasting medium, such as bronze, cement or plaster, says Peter Charles, associate professor of sculpture at Georgetown University. Students in his Sculpture I class cast their projects in plaster. After they create their sculptures on an armature, they coat the clay with pieces of wet cheesecloth to create a shell.
After it dries, the shell is cut from the clay, reassembled and lined with a greasy substance, such as Vaseline, wax or lotion. The shell is then filled with a material such as plaster. After the material hardens, the shell is removed easily because of its lining. Sometimes students paint the final forms; others leave them plain.
This method has been used for hundreds of years, Mr. Charles says, but today, sculptures are made from various materials, including fabric and paper mache.
"Sculpture could embrace a huge number of art forms," Mr. Charles says. "Sculpture, unlike painting, has evolved to all kinds of works. Sculpture could be almost anything."
Carving, unlike modeling, is a subtractive process that starts with a solid block of stone or wood, says Mansoor Azarhooshang, program director of sculptor at George Washington University.
The block usually is shaped by sanding and chiseling, which is much more labor-intensive than working with clay. If an artist makes a mistake while carving, it's much harder to fix because material is taken away that can't be replaced. Therefore, most beginner sculptors start by learning modeling and then advance into carving.
Mr. Azarhooshang says he likes sculpting because it forces people to look at life in more than one dimension. In contrast, he says, painting and drawing, which are two-dimensional, give nothing more than an illusion of depth. He says sculpture is the least shallow of all the forms of art.
"With sculpture, you can't hide anything," he says. "I tell my students to become aware and able to evaluate not only their projects, but life as a whole from more than one aspect."

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