Wednesday, September 4, 2013

the clay possum

the clay possum
Half-assed miniature re-creation of The Clay Possum. 
(My marsupial-sculpting skills have gone waaaay down hill since 1987...)

Third Grade. Art class should've been my favorite, but to put it quite frankly, our elementary school art teacher was an asshole. (Childhood friends, you know exactly who I am talking about.) He publicly ridiculed everyone's work and regularly made students cry. During each class, he would pick one student, do their entire project for them, and then make fun of everyone else's projects for not being as good. I don't know why this guy was working with children. Dude was a jerk.

Fortunately, I have no recollection of the asshole art teacher in the story I'm about to tell. I just remember eight-year-old me toiling over a hunk of red clay. I'm not sure exactly what the assignment was - perhaps it was just "make something out of clay", but I do remember quite specifically that I wanted to make something for my mother. A Christmas present? Mother's Day? Her birthday? A just-because gift? I'm not sure, but I do know that I wanted to make my mom something and I wanted it to be awesome.

I decided to make a possum.

Yes, a possum. You know, the rat-like marsupial that eats garbage and carries rabies? Yes, that possum. Made out of clay. FOR MY MOTHER.

Not only that, I designed my clay possum to be a candleholder. I just knew that the clay possum candleholder would look fantastic on our fancy mahogany dining room table - the table that we only ate at for special occasions. Possums were special because they carried their babies in a pouch and could hang upside-down by their tails. So what could possibly say special occasion better than my mother's heirloom china, grandmother's silver, and a clay possum with a candle stuck in its back???

At school, we got our hunks of clay, and I set about sculpting mine into a life-like (and almost life-sized) version of my beloved local marsupial. (Ok, it wasn't life-sized - have you ever seen a possum? It's the size of a cat! But my possum was easily the size of a well-fed rat. After all, I wanted this sculpture to be a centerpiece. A real show-stopper. Go big or go home! And if I could've requested 14 pounds of clay to truly make the possum life-sized, I probably would have.) I crafted its pointy snout and beady eyes. I rolled out a snake for its pink hairless tail. I carefully used a carving tool to scratch the texture of its wiry coat into the clay. Last, but not least, I dug out a hole in the possum's back to hold a single elegant taper candle. I carved my initials into the bottom and I was done.

It was a masterpiece. The best thing I had ever made.

I couldn't wait to give it to my mom. She would be amazed at how realistic it was. She would give it a place of honor on the fancy mahogany dining table. I mean, it would almost be like dining with a real possum!

Before I could give the possum to my mom, however, we had to wait several weeks for our sculptures to be fired in the school's kiln. I waited and waited for our next art class. I couldn't wait to see my masterpiece transformed from pliable clay into a piece of art that would survive for eternity.

At long last, the sculptures had been kiln-fired and were ready to be returned to a classroom full of budding artists. The finished pieces were passed out to my classmates one by one. But where was my possum???

Terrible news: My possum had broken in the kiln.

Also broken was my heart.

There was nothing left of my masterpiece but shards and dust. The possum sculpture had completely exploded. (An appropriate end for a critter who so often ends up exploded all over the road, though I didn't see it that way when I was eight.)

In retrospect, I wonder if the teacher had called my mother and warned her that a flaming possum was about to be staring her in the face as she ate Christmas dinner: "Want me to smash it with a hammer?"

I'm just kidding. I have the type of mother who would've proudly displayed anything I had made as a child. I'm not sure that she's ever heard this story before, as I was too heartbroken and ashamed at the time to tell her that her gift was a failure. But Mom, that kiln saved you from years of fugly adorning the dining room table.

And that might have been the best gift of all.

1 comment:

Karin said...

You crack me up, Rachel! And you actually took the time to make a replica?! :)