Rebecca Shapiro '23
Washington International School, Washington D.C.
The air thickened with red dust as I walked into the basement of Washington Studio School for my first sculpting class - a way to be creative after a stressful day. As I pulled back a thick curtain to enter, I looked around the room, examining the surfaces, all covered in a thin layer of that same dust. The bookshelves behind me were sporting a small collection of sculptures.
We were given a 4’ by 6’ block of clay to mold into a woman that was sitting in front of us. I stared at the block of clay, unable to imagine how to start. The woman next to me immediately started shaping her rust-colored slab. She took clumps from the bottom of the piece, adding it to the top, taking pieces away to form shoulders and arms. I spent more than an appropriate amount of time watching her work. I was amazed by the way she could see the woman inside her block of clay.
I turned back to my sculpture and gingerly shaved off a piece of clay from the top corner. I continued to work at that corner and that corner only as my instructor travelled around the room, visiting each of his students to offer tips and suggestions. When he made it to my table, he glanced at my piece. I had transformed the 4’ by 6’ rectangular prism into a pentagonal prism. He took one of my tools and started shaving away clay and suggested that I remove even more. He continued to visit the rest of his students as I continued to shave miniscule pieces of clay off of my now hexagonal prism.
I wanted to act on his advice, I wanted to take this opportunity to learn, but I did not want to do something wrong. I was afraid of the permanence of my choices. This fear continued to hold me back throughout the 3-hour lesson. By the end of the class, rather than my piece looking like the model sitting in front of me, my piece looked like Mario from the 1985 Super Mario Bros. I left the class, wondering when I started letting fear control my actions.
I remembered that I used to quite literally jump into new situations. The first time I went on a chair lift, for example, I had been so excited to “hit the slopes” that instead of waiting for the chair lift to reach the end, I leaped off 8 feet too soon. Luckily, my dad caught me and held onto me until we reached the end of the lift.
The next week, I was determined to reclaim that feeling of fearlessness to make progress on my sculpture. This time, I took out clumps, rather than slithers. When my instructor reached my table, he pointed to plenty of problems with my piece. The arm was too high, the legs looked like a yeti’s, and the head took the shape of a balloon. But I realized that at least I was doing it — and I was enjoying it, too.
My final piece was in no way a replica of the model who sat in front of me during those lessons: it was riddled with errors. But, while the person I was when I first entered the classroom may have hated the fact that she could see all the mistakes in her final structure, I now appreciate that I can see them, and that I can see how far I’ve come since making them. No matter how deep under the surface of my sculpture the mistake might be, I know it is there. Every crack, air bubble, slip and score, is a working component in my sculpture. And I know that, like my sculpture, I’ve been shaped by my mistakes, too: as long as I want to keep becoming myself, I’ll need to keep making them.