by Karl Johanson
One of my earliest memories is playing with coloured modelling clay. While I was playing 'squish the hunk of clay', my mother took a piece, did something to it with her hands and then placed a small blue elephant on the table next to me. What an amazing notion, you could do things with clay other than squish it through your fingers. I tried to play 'make the elephant walk' while my mother made more animals for me. I say 'tried' to play because my co-ordination at that age was such that a casual observer might mistakenly think I was playing 'mash the elephant into the table with my fist'.
It occurred to me some time later that I might actually be able to make something interesting with the clay myself. For some reason, the few recognisable forms I managed to produce barely compared to the menageries my mother could create. In the first thirty years of my life the only decent representational forms I was able to produce were a rough sphere, a worm and a pancake.
A few months ago while visiting my sister-in-law and her family I noticed my two year old niece playing with her clay. She tends to be a bit leery of me (maybe because I once accidentally hit her head into a ceiling lamp while playing the airplane ride game) but this time she seemed quite happy to have me watch her play 'squish the clay'. 'Squish the clay' has become high tech these days, with nifty plastic machines with levers which allow one to extrude a wide variety of I beams & other shapes. My niece allowed me to play with one of the pieces, so I tried to decide whether to make a worm or a sphere.
A brief passage from Montey Python passed through my brain, inspiring me to make a worm which was thin at one end, much, much larger in the middle, then thin at the other end. I then made four short worms, attached them to the fat part of the big worm and . . . a brontosaurus. Not a great brontosaurus, mind you, but definitely a brontosaurus (or apatosaur if you prefer). Something had clicked in my brain. The little voice in my head which likes to say, "You're not an artist, nyaa nyaa” was stangely silent. I wonder if having such an uncritical audience was what allowed this creative leap to take place.
I handed the brontosaurus, and later the duck and the turtle, to my niece, who squealed with delight & squished them all into the table.
Originally published by Under the Ozone Hole Number Eleven – June, 1995