Dish Gardens Inspired by Chihuli


In my school district, the 3rd graders have art for two 45 minute classes per week.  This allows me to do a few more complicated projects with the extra time. Two years ago we were invited to participate in a special nature-themed exhibit.  This project was developed for that exhibit.  It took 5 class periods to complete (2 1/2 weeks).

The 3rd grade class learned about the work of glass artist Dale Chihuli.  Although we do not have the means to work with glass in our art studio, we did experiment with a few ways to imitate the effect.  First, students learned how to roll an even slab of clay with wooden slats.  They draped their slab over a plastic bowl to create a form similar to Chihuli’s “Macchia”.  Since Chihuli’s work can often be found in natural settings, we turned our glazed “macchia” into dish gardens where real vines live side by side with “glass trees” made from melted plastic cups.  The results were so much fun that I had to share them.


Rolling out a slab of clay.


Clay “macchias” in and out of the kiln

chi bowls

The dishes were beautiful on their own, but we kept working…


We took clippings from two parent plants.


After two weeks, the clippings began to grow roots.


While waiting for our plants to root, we used permanent markers to add line, pattern, and color to a series of plastic cups.


It took 60 seconds at 350 degrees to melt our plastic creations.


I used an awl to poke holes in each cup before students added pipe cleaners and beads to build their trees.



Note to teachers:

Melting large quantities of plastic in your oven is not great for your lungs! Make sure you have proper ventilation. These cups are similar to the ones we used. They can easily be found at any grocery store.

Other handy supplies include: plastic bowls, pony beads, 12″ wooden dowels, modeling clay (to help the dowels stand in the dirt), pipe cleaners

Our school orders clay supplies from Portland Pottery.

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