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compiled messages Re: clay rattles


From: Susan Holland (Susan_Holland_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Feb 28 2002 - 15:45:46 PST

Here was my question:
I want to try a lesson to make clay rattles by putting two pinch pots
together-- I heard somebody talk about it and it sounds great, but I can't
remember the details. What goes inside to rattle? (I'm thinking the idea was to
fire clay pieces inside. What's a good art history link for the lesson? does
anybody have information on this kind of lesson?

Here are answers I got:
the rattles are made with bits of clay enclosed inside that are balled up and
wrapped in tissue paper so they do not stick together then i usually get them
to rap all the tissue wrapped ball in another bit of tissue so that the round
shape remains as they close it...
i made rain sticks using steel shot as the inside.. shot cannot be fired but we
used pins on the stick to inhibit the fall of the shot (they added decoration
on the outside) and the steel shot gave the best sound.. put the shot in before
we glued the pins... used an extruded shape.... really cool for rattles used
the two pinchpots together in the shape of a your family to
dinner.. fun
When I taught elementary art, my fifth graders made clay rattles. (While I read
When Clay Sings.) I stressed how art functions as part of ceremony, especially
in certain cultures. Students made rattles of white clay, we covered them with
red slip and scratched Native American symbols into them to create our own
ceremonial rattles. The rattle I made as an example had symbols that related to
the sun and warmth and good weather. It was February and we had a long, cold
winter that year. The kids thought that was really interesting. I allowed them
to create some symbols of their own too. While rattles fired, students wrote a
descriptions of the ceremony in which their rattle would be used. They loved
this lesson!!! It turned out to be one of those "privilege lesson". You had to
be a fifth grader to have the "privilege" of doing this. Don't you love it!!
Patty Phillips
Susan be sure to wrap your clay balls that you put inside the rattle in that you don;t have balls stick to the side and fire there. This way
your balls will rattle free. Also don;t forget to put a hole in the rattle or
you will have explosions. Loved making rattles with the kids when I taught
highschool ceramics Some took the time to carve into the clay - making
beautiful multicultural designs.
I do clay rattles with my 7th graders. We do pigs and I tie them in to the
current trend with the New York/Chicago/KS City cows, Cincinnati pigs, etc etc.
We make our pinch pots, then I have the students make 8 - 10 little balls of
clay and wrap each in a bit of paper towel to keep them from sticking together.
The paper burns off in the kiln. You can see them at
When I was on the Global Art Project site, I remembered this piece:
Make sure you get the entire URL to see the image. ~^~
******** *******
Many native cultures made clay rattles - especially pre-Columbian cultures of
Mexico - Central America - South America. I did a quickie web search and
couldn't find images - but did get a link to some interesting contemporary
pieces ( and ) . Just enter "clay rattles" in our
search engine.
 When I searched for pre-Columbian clay rattles I came up with many text sites
- Here is one image: Here are some
interesting whistles (flutes) - made after the style of antique Mayan
sculptures (reproduction pieces).
 Clay rattles of the Maya were called "Sonajas" (So-nah-haws) ... Silbatos are
clay whistles. Many Mayan works depict figures holding clay rattles.
This was from a site on Ancient Rome: "The babies of ancient Rome also played
with small clay rattles. The clay rattles resembled tiny clay sealed vases with
a few beads or seeds inside. When shaken, these tiny rattles produced a melodic
tinkle which easily calmed a fussy baby."
Some ancient clay rattles have turned up in Egypt too (Late Bronze and Iron
ages) Bronze Age (1200 BC) "A few
objects are identified as musical instruments: bronze cymbals, jug-shaped clay
rattles, ivory castanets. Small single-handled clay rattles first appear in the
Late Bronze II, probably just thirteenth century. The rattles are much smaller
than later Iron II rattles." ( ) Iron Age --
"RATTLES: Heavy clay rattles occur in some Iron II contexts. Due to their large
size, it is doubtful that these hour-glass shaped instruments could function as
infant rattles. They probably were used in musical processions (2 Samuel 6:5).
As for other musical instruments, most have not survived except in depiction."

Susan Holland