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Monumental sculpture ... on a small scale.

Monumental sculpture. . . on a small scale

MANY ELEMENTARY STUDENTS DO not have immediate access to the fascinating array of monumental scale sculptures gracing American cities. Though we live less than an hour away from Chicagos's fine collection of larger-than-life sculptures, my students are often not familiar with these works. By way of a fifty-five-minute paper sculpture lesson, however, my fourth graders study the process by which these sculptures are made, and each student completes a model or "maquette" for their own monumental sculptures.

The lesson begins with a discussion of terms. I ask, for example, "What is a sculpture?" and "What are the `three' dimensions?" I note definitions on the chalkboard as we talk, building the basic concepts necessary for understanding the lesson. Within a few minutes students have these terms in mind: Sculpture--three-dimensional artwork; can be measured by height, width and depth (thickness). Monumental-large, grand, big! Maquette (French) or model-a small copy.

I show students photographs of actual monumental sculptures by such artists as Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Richard Hunt, Pablo Picasso and Tony Smith, asking them to note the relative size of the people in the photos to the size of the artwork. (Several art magazines publish annual color photo portfolios of new monumental works. These make good illustrations.) As the children look at these photos, we discuss the reasons an artist might want to make such large pieces of artwork. The students formulate many possible answers: "So many people can view it at once," or "To beautify big, empty spaces," or "So no one can ignore it," or even, "Maybe artists get paid more for big sculptures!"

Then I ask, "Do you think an artist just goes out to a public park with ten tons of steel, a welding torch, and a ladder and makes up a new sculpture as he or she works?" After a good laugh at the absurdity of the thought, I explain that models help artists start small, imagining and trying ideas without the cost in time and materials necessary to make a monumental work. I tell students that maquettes can be made from any material, such as clay, wood or metal, and that paper can "imitate" the materials that would actually be used in larger work, such as wood, steel, aluminum, concrete, or even water.

Rather than constructing models of figurative subjects, I explain that we will be making sculptures that communicate a mood or idea. This expands students' artistic experience to include work stemming from abstract concepts rather then concrete sources. It also simplifies the task ahead, since copying the form of an existing object would take considerable exactitude.

During a skill-building session, we discuss how to make three-dimensional forms from flat paper. I demonstrate a wide variety of maneuvers, such as making tabs, rolling large and small cylinders, folding box forms, and scoring paper for curved folds. Afterwards I distribute an illustrated handout which will help students remember these and other procedures during the work session.

Before the students choose supplies. I emphasize two important concepts. First, this should be a process of experimentation and discovery -- I urge students to simply manipulate a small piece of paper until a pleasing idea takes form. Then they can expand this idea as they create. Second, most of these sculptures work best when the principle of unity is followed-several similar forms in one or two colors often make the most attractive impact.

Students use scissors, glue, a pencil, and three or four sheets of 6" X 9" (15 cm X 23 cm) construction paper with a 6" (15 cm) tagboard base for the entire project. While the students begin exploring forms for their artwork, I circulate throughout the classroom to help children solve design problems or master paper sculpture skills. Many students, however, formulate a vision readily and pursue their model-making very enthusiastically and independently.

When the entire class is working smoothly, I tell them about the way artists submit drawings or maquettes to competitions in which artwork is chosen for public spaces such as parks or new buildings. I describe how much an actual monumental sculpture might cost and how artists often hire expert craftspeople to do the complex building of the actual sculpture. In many cities there is a "Percent for Art" ordinance specifying that one percent of the cost of any city-funded building be set aside for the purchase of art projects to beautify it. Because many of my students' models are truly wonderful pieces of art, I encourage them to seek out competitions for the commission of monumental sculptures. I strongly suspect a few future sculptors have been "born" during this lesson!

Before my students can call their projects complete, they must incorporate a small paper figure to indicate the scale of the finished work. We calculate the actual height of the sculpture by multiplying the number of figures needed to reach the top of the model, six feet being the "given" height of the small paper figure. The students must also name their work. Again I remind them that their sculptures should reflect an idea or mood. Last, the students indicate the materials with which the actual sculpture will someday be constructed.

At the end of the lesson, the maquettes are displayed together on a tabletop. It is a good time to conduct a class critique, reinforcing the skill with which students use the materials, the grace or beauty some of the students have achieved in their models, or the feeling the viewer gets from some students' work. Where it is possible to do so, a field trip to see actual monumental sculptures would be ideal. Other follow-up lessons might include making a sculpture from a pliable substance or carving from a hard one.

Perhaps the best aspect of his lesson is the lasting impact it makes on the minds of many students. When in the future they actually see monumental sculptures, students really take note--they take the time to observe the work critically. And that makes this simple paper sculpture lesson one that will truly make a positive difference in the way students view art!

PHOTO : Wood Forest, by Brian Newell, grade 4, Churchill Elementary School, Glen Ellyn, IL.

PHOTO : Monument, by Greg Johnson, grade 4, Forest Glen Elementary School, Glen Ellyn, IL.

PHOTO : Marji Purcell Gates is an art teacher in School District 41, Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
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Author:Gates, Marji Purcell
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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