“Hello Robert!” The six year old children I am taking on a tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery greet the photo of eighty-six year old Robert Archambeau. I tell them all the pottery they see in the room around them was made by Robert. We go over to look at the name of the exhibit A Conversation in Clay. I ask the children what a conversation is and they all know. I tell them we are going to have a clay conversation with a friend but first, we will practice how to do that together. We walk over to a group of teapots Robert has created and talk about them using a Clay Conversation guide I’ve made. The kids contribute so many great ideas. They each know which teapot they like best. They notice that some teapots’ surfaces look smooth like a marble and others look rough like sandpaper. They point out that one of the pots has a different handle than the rest. They love the rainbow colours on one and wonder if they could put hot chocolate in the pots.
Then I send them off in pairs with a copy of the discussion guide to have conversations with a partner about the other pieces in the room. Later we get together so everyone can share what they talked about. They tell me these pieces would be perfect for storing magic potions. The pair discussing these pots thinks one looks like a chocolate cake and the other like an apple. They say the containers could be used for cookie jars or cooking pots or for storing rice. The children would eat soup or cereal from these bowls and they notice how each one is a different height and color and has a kind of foot or stand on the bottom. I am told that one of these pieces looks like a honeycomb, another an acorn squash and still another has a design that reminds them of tree bark or snakeskin. These plates each with a unique leaf design inside would be perfect for eating salad. Now I give the grade one children clay and they fashion pieces of their own. I love this tea cup with a happy face inside. This one is a flower vase. And this one reminds some of the kids of a poppy seed bagel.
As we leave the gallery we go back to Robert’s photo to say good-bye. His works of art have created lots of great conversations and provided inspiration for our own art.