My first penguin came in 1964 in Nancy Leslie’s art class at Deerfield Beach Junior High. I made it myself as part of an assignment in a technique called slab sculpture, where you roll out the clay like cookie dough, cut out shapes and put them together to create the sculpture. My idea was to join two penguin-shaped slabs together in the back and leave the front open, painting the inside white to look like its belly. Smaller pieces were attached to make the feet, wings and beak. Miss Leslie gave me a lot of coaching to make the penguin strong enough to survive the kiln. “If your sculpture breaks, you get an F,” she proclaimed to the class. We would leave our finished projects to be fired overnight and find out the next day if we passed or failed. A lot of things could go wrong. Another project I did was supposed to be a white platter with a bas-relief grape design in the middle, but it came out orange because everyone else in the class was using red clay. Miss Leslie convinced me that it looked good that way, but I always wonder how it would have looked in white. Well, the penguin had a mishap too. “It’s going to break,” Miss Leslie predicted on the day I handed it over to her to be fired. It survived not only its first trip to the kiln, but also the second after I had painted it with glaze. The color of the glaze doesn’t show until after it’s gone through the firing process. Somehow the labels got mixed up and my penguin came out a shiny green instead of black. Miss Leslie tried to convince me that it looked good, just like my orange platter, but I insisted on another coat of glaze to cover up the green. She was still amazed that the penguin had survived two trips through the kiln and warned me again about my grade. I insisted on firing it again and she agreed. It actually took two more firings to get it to a point where I was happy and I think I ended up with an A.
Slab sculpture penguin, 8th grade art class project, about 8 inches tall