World Ceramics: Discussion Questions

Pacific Coast region (Mexico),
Standing Figure
200 B.C.-A.D. 300
Ceramic and pigment
28 inches high, 5-1/2 inches wide
The John R. Van Derlip Fund


  1. This figure is made out of clay. Where does clay come from? When you work with clay, is it soft or hard? How does it get hard? Baking or firing clay makes it last a long time. How do you think the artist shaped this figure? Pretend you have a ball of clay in your hands. Move your hands to show how you would shape the feet; the legs; the face; the body. Can you tell what parts have been added on in clay?
  2. Look closely at this woman's face. Can you make the same expression? Do you think she is happy? Sad? Sleepy? Funny? What adjectives would you use to describe her? What jewelry is she wearing? Where do you see the jewelry? How would her earrings feel if you could try them on?
  3. Does this look like a real person? Do you think this is a male or a female figure? Why do you say that? Which features has the artist exaggerated or emphasized? Why do you think the artist did this?
  4. How did the artist decorate the figure? Where do you see painted patterns? Where do you see a rectangle in this figure? A triangle? A square? What is she holding?
  5. What is this figure wearing? Does she have a hat? Does she wear shoes? Based on her clothing, what do you think the climate was like where she lived? What has she done to decorate her body? Do you think body decoration was important to the Nayarit people?


  1. Why do you think this is called a tomb figure? Why do you think people would want objects buried with them? Objects people placed in their tombs provide clues to their everyday life. What do you think this woman's life was like? Why do you say that?
  2. Do you think this figure was difficult to make? Why do you think so?
  3. What other objects in this unit have been included in a tomb? All used clay for works of art. Which culture(s) do you think was more advanced in its ceramics techniques? Why?
  4. Describe what an archaeologist does. (Digging up things buried long ago and searching for clues to how people used to live.) What would you bury in a time capsule that would show people in the future about your life?
  5. Even though this woman is standing still, she looks lively. How did the artist convey that liveliness? Is it shown in her face? In her body? Cover the body and look at the head. Cover the head and look at the body. How did the artist make the face so expressive?
  6. After firing, the artist painted this figure with patterned fabrics, facial decoration, and jewelry in white, red, yellow, and black mineral and vegetable PIGMENTS. You may see some traces of the paint still on the figure, but most of it has worn off or faded over time because it was not baked on in the firing process. Do you think it is possible to appreciate the figure as a work of art even though we can not see it as the artist originally intended it to appear? If you were the curator of the museum's Art of the Americas gallery, would you display this figure as it is, or would you attempt to repaint the figure in order to display it as the artist intended? Why?


More Information

Key ideas.
Where does it come from?
What does it look like?
How was it used?
How was it made?
Discussion questions.
Additional resources.

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