Clay-work is the sensual process of manipulating, forming and sculpting clay as well as the products or creative objects composed by the process.  Clay has been used throughout history by may cultures as containing tools and as an expression of the religious or even spiritual dimensions of life.  As we have, over time, “attributed significance to the earth as the source of all things” (p.66) the use of clay to connect with reactions to a loss seems to link us to the essential life force and ending, or resting place of our loved ones.  Sholt and Gavron (2006) identify the “link between symbolic clay products and the mental-spiritual realm of humankind early in human history (p.66).”

     Using Jungle Journey (Traverse Publishing Co.) by my friend and fellow art therapist, Barbara McIntyre, has been an amazing way to work with kids who are learning coping skills after a loss. In this poignant story about a community of jungle animals, Eleanor the elephant dies leaving her friends to figure out how to move forward without her and how to make meaning out of their loss.  Each animal responds to the news of her death in a unique way showing a variety of coping reactions.  The story goes on to illustrate how each animal offers a contribution to the community in Eleanor’s absence and memory.
     After reading the story each member of the group is asked to sculpt the animal they most identify with in the story or the animal who has the most appeal to them.  We then take time to observe the sculptures and share the characteristics of the animal chosen and why.  As the small sculptures are formed each child relates in clay their ideas about how to cope or what aspect of the animal they admire.  Creating the character ‘in hand’ integrates the ideas in a way that is sensory based and therefore memorable.

Gavron, T. & Sholt, M. (2006). Therapeutic Qualities of Clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A Review.  Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 23(2) pp. 66-72.
Image source: artforsmallhands.com



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