Rowland Unified School District

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Oswalt Students Learn Art of Zen

Oswalt Students Learn Art of Zen

Nogales High School teacher and artist James Ellison gave a workshop Monday to sixth-grade students on the Japanese style of Raku pottery.

James Ellison offered one departing piece of advice to Oswalt Academy students during a visit Monday.

“Remember, art is about having fun,” he said, with a broad grin.

And that seemed to be the case as students at Oswalt giggled while they formed clay first into balls and then into the shape of a tea bowl during a lesson in the Japanese style of Raku pottery.

Ellison, who has taught at Nogales High School for more than 16 years and is the visual and performance arts chair, came to the Shadow Oak Drive campus to lead a workshop for all of the sixth graders. He was one of the nominees for the prestigious Music Center’s BRAVO AWARD this year, which recognizes arts educators in Los Angeles County.

During his presentation, Ellison talked to the students about Zen, the Buddhist philosophy of how to live life naturally. He told the students to look up the word serendipity and said that it is an important part of Zen pottery.

“In Zen, you want it to look like it was naturally made, not made by a machine,” he said.  “Whatever happens happens.  Accidents are good. You are not to fix them and make them look perfect because perfect is against Zen.”

At an outdoor set up of tables under tents to block out the sun, Ellison roamed around demonstrating to students how to use their fingers to pinch grooves into their clay creations.

The Oswalt students are studying hunting and gathering and ancient civilizations as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. 

Teacher Earle Ousley said the workshop gives the students a chance to have fun while learning about art.

“The kids are basically using their hands to create,” he said.  “We’re tying that in to a them and they’re using their hands to create pottery.”

Ashley Rodriguez, 11, said that was the most fun part.

“We get to do the stuff with our hands and learn as we did it,” she said.

The most interesting thing she learned from the workshop is that the Japanese drink their tea out of bowls, not mugs, she added.

Principal Kevin Despard said Ellison came to the campus last year to speak to students.  This year, the teacher who set up that talk decided to see if he could do a hands-on workshop, Despard said.

The workshop goes beyond paper and pencil, giving the students more of a connection to the cultures that they read about through the pottery making, he said. 

Ellison’s visit also links the two schools, as Nogales High also has an IB program.

“The more kids get into art, it will help (Ellison’s) program,” Despard said.  “It will build a relationship between the two schools.”

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