African Clay Masks

An elementary art lesson by Cheryl Leung


To create a clay mask with African characteristics and utilizing texture.


Clay cut into slabs

Container with slip

Plastic utensils and other texture gadgets

Canvas or other surface on which to work

Large zip lock plastic bags (if project is not completed in one sitting)


clay-- granite-type rock that has been decomposed

slip--clay in liquid suspension when mixed with water

plasticity--a term used to describe the quality of clay that allows it to be easily manipulated

scoring--crosshatching in clay for the purpose of attaching one piece of clay to another

texture--surface quality of an object

leather hard--the condition of clay after much of the moisture has gone out (it can still be carved or joined to another piece of clay)

kiln--a furnace for firing ceramic products

firing--the process of baking the ceramic products in a kiln at a high degree of temperature


Display some masks and ask, "What are masks used for?" Give students time to respond and talk about their responses.

Masks are a covering used to disguise or protect the face. Throughout history people in almost every society have used masks. The four types of masks are: 1)ceremonial masks 2)theatrical masks 3)burial masks and 4)festive masks.



First Class Period

  1. Locate Africa on a map or globe.

  2. Display a number of pictures of African masks and talk about the common characteristics of the eyes, noses, and mouths. Certain shapes of these features are repeated in many African masks. You may want draw the shapes of these features on the board or on a poster.

Common Eyes

Common Noses

Common Mouths

    1. Demonstrate mask construction using a rectangular slab of clay. Work from a preliminary drawing and cut out the mask. Place the drawing on a rectangular slab of clay and cut it out. The remaining clay is used to make the features (Cut the features out of the mask and trace around them). During the demonstration, as you are working with the clay, talk about the vocabulary words. Show how to score clay and apply slip to attach the features. Finally, use utensils or texture gadgets to apply texture. A pencil can be used to poke a hole in the top for hanging. Remind students to carve their names into the back of their masks.

    2. If time permits, students should draw a picture of their own African mask to be used for the next class period. The mask is to be their own original mask, using the common features that were discussed in Step 2.

    Second Class Period

    1. Students are to cut out their drawings of their African masks, trace around them on a clay slab, and cut them out. Do the same with the features.

    2. Apply features by scoring and applying slip.

    3. Use texture gadgets to apply texture.

    4. Poke a hole in the top for hanging.

    5. Carve first and last name into the back.

    Third Class Period

    After masks have been fired in the kiln, a stain can be applied using brown liquid shoe polish. Use the sponge applicator and wipe off any excess. This leaves a nice finish on the masks and the liquid polish is able to get into the cracks and crevices of the textured surface.


    Masks are evaluated on the following criteria:
      1. Usage of African features

      2. Usage of texture

    3. Craftsmanship

    Examples of African Clay Masks

      The following are examples of African clay masks made by second and third graders. This lesson can also be used with older students.

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