Camp Life is Handmade

harry potter costume pottery camper

There was a little bit of Potter Mania at Rockbrook today. Marking the release in theaters of the final Harry Potter film, we decided to decorate RBC in all things HP. We of course had plenty of campers and counselors dressing up as characters from the series— lots of maroon and gold, green and black stripes, Harry Potter shaped eye glasses, and lightning bolt shaped scars (drawn with dark eye liner or paint) on dozens of foreheads. Some of the campers clearly planned for this day because their costumes included more elaborate hats, capes, wigs and make up. Girls were decorating magic wands, and carrying them around, would shout out spells now and then with a sly giggle and in their best English accent. Several of the counselors and the Hi-Ups really pulled out the stops by decorating the dining hall like the Great Hall of the Hogwarts Castle: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw, all represented. The equestrian staff even put together a game of Quiddich for the girls, keeping the theme going. This involved riding around a series of cones and, from atop their horse, trying to toss a small ball through a hula hoop at one end of the ring. The whole day was very imaginative and fun.

Girls making ceramics at summer camp

You may have noticed this from checking the online photo gallery, but one of the neat things about life at Rockbrook is how much time the campers here spend doing things with their hands. Everywhere the girls are making things, building things, and decorating things. All of the arts and crafts activities are examples of this (weaving, painting, sewing, ceramics, etc.), but so are the adventure activities (climbing and paddling, e.g.), the sports (archery and riflery, e.g.) and even the horseback riding. These girls are working with all kinds of physical materials, manipulating, shaping and arranging real, not virtual, things. They are, in this way, connecting to the physical world, often to nature, and to their own sensations and feelings.

Girls playing hand game with summer camp friends

What’s important about this “hands on” experience central to camp life is how much the girls really love it. This may be because the rest of the year lacks the same opportunity for kids to do much with their hands, and it’s simply novel and fun, but it could also be because camp is feeding a hunger. Perhaps kids need chances to work with their hands, to make things, to forge real connections with the physical world, and modern life, with its pre-processing of almost everything, is making “hand work” (working “by hand”) less common. The manual character of camp is satisfying an important need kids don’t even know they have. Instead, they simply know it’s really fun, really satisfying, to make stuff, whether it be a clay pot, a tie dye t-shirt, or even a magic wand. Maybe, we as human beings need this kind of manual experience, and we’ve forgotten it. Thankfully, there is camp to remind our children! As they grow older, we can hope they’ll remember the satisfaction they gained from working with their hands at camp. If so, I suspect they’ll be happier.

How to Make a Lanyard!

Summer Camp Lanyard Patterns

It just wouldn’t be camp without making a lanyard. That flat colorful cord, twisted and tied, seems to be a part of every girl’s summer arts and crafts. Even camp alumni speak fondly of learning to make decorative lanyards.

There are lots of patterns to tie also. Have you seen these four?  That first pattern to the left is called the “Diamond Braid” or “Round Braid.”  Like most of these braids, getting started is the hardest part.  This one is unique too because it’s more braiding that tying knots, and will require a knot at the end to keep it from unraveling.

The second one is usually called the “Cobra Braid” because it makes a flat lanyard reminiscent of a cobra’s head.  Some people also call it the “Ladder Knot.”  If you know how to tie a square knot, or even how to tie your shoes, you’ll be able to make this lanyard.

The third pattern is probably the best known camp lanyard pattern.  Known as the “Box Braid” or the “Square Braid,” it makes a regular 4-sided strand.  The important things for this arts and crafts project is keeping your strands straight and your knots tight.

The last pattern shown here is a variation on the box braid, and is usually called the “Round Braid.”  To make it, use the same 4-strand weaving knot, but each new knot makes a slight turn crossing over (rather than parallel to) the previous knot.  Like all these patterns, you repeat the knot and braiding over and over until your lanyard is long enough or you run out of cord.

Don’t forget that these are just starting points. You can combine them, switch from one the other, add a twist to a strand, or maybe even add a bead to create your own summer arts and crafts project. Go ahead and experiment, and you’ll have something really cool.

Girls Painting at Camp

Girls Painting Camp

There seems to always be some kind of painting going on at Rockbrook Camp— paint, brushes, paper, cardboard. Everyday in the painting and drawing activity, of course, girls are painting, working on composition, color, texture, perspective, etc.

In the drama activity, girls will be painting scenery for the end of session play. During one of the special afternoon events— like a carnival, for example —there’ll be face painting, of like in this picture, body painting to show your team spirit. In the “Hodge Podge” craft activity, chance are you’ll see girls painting fabric pillow cases, backpacks, or bandannas. The ninth grader CAs do tons of painting as they prepare decorations for the big surprise banquet at the end of each session. It’s really quite amazing how much painting we do at camp.  There’s no need to bring a brush (we’ll have those too!), but come ready to add color to almost everything you do!

Summer Pottery Program

Summer Pottery Arts Program

The Rockbrook pottery program continues to be a very popular activity at camp.  Both  pottery studios always seem to be humming— girls sculpting, pressing or decorating something, and instructors zipping around to give pointers, prepare materials, or plan a kiln firing. All this action means that there are some pretty cool things being made too! There are multi-colored tiles, sculpted miniature animals, giant coil pots (like the one in this photo), and delicate wheel-thrown cups and bowls.

One really cool project is to take a smooth flat slab of clay and press natural forms into it so that they leave intricate textures. Little twigs, leaves, and tree bark, for example, all leave amazing patterns. You can then use the slab to make a vase or some other vessel.

It’s easy to see why the Rockbrook summer arts program is so well loved.  There’s almost an endless variety of pottery projects to make, great satisfaction seeing how they turn out when glazed and fired, and the fun of being with your friends throughout.

How to Make Wheel-Thrown Ceramics

wheel-thrown ceramics at camp

“Can you learn how to use the potter’s wheel?”

Yes, you can! The Rockbrook ceramics camp activities lets campers improve their pottery skills so they can learn to throw pots on the wheel.  After practicing other ceramics techniques, specifically hand-building methods like pinch, coil and slab pottery, it’s exciting to learn about the potter’s wheel.  You’ll work on 4 steps:

Pottery on the Potter’s wheel

  1. Centering the clay on the wheel.

  2. Opening up the center of the clay.

  3. Pulling up the walls and shaping the piece.

  4. Trimming the base of the piece.

Of course there’s lots of detail to each of these steps, but this brief outline gives you a sense of what’s involved in learning to throw ceramics on the potter’s wheel. Real art! Over a few weeks at camp, you’ll be surprised how good you can get and be amazed at the cool things you can make.  Maybe next summer, you can finish a whole set of matching mugs!

P.S. If you want to read more about it, check out the book Wheel-Thrown Ceramics, by our friend Don Davis.  It’s the best one around.