Louise Nevelson: Found Object Sculpture

I am a big fan of American sculptor Louise Nevelson.

She appeals to my love of symmetry and found object sculpture. She is well known for assembling "crates" grouped together to form a new creation, then painted in a uniform color to unite the objects.

"When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life – a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created."--Nevelson

As is my custom, I've been mulling over a Nevelson project for quite sometime now.

I have six children, so broken toys, mismatched LEGOS, naked dolls and bits of junk abound. So what I did was, with my kids, go through all of their toy bins. We pulled out stuff they no longer played with, multiples, etc. etc. This was a good way to clean up their stuff, so I totally killed two birds with one stone.

And now I had a collection of things for our sculpture. I wish I had a pic of the sculpture that was created with a doll head that I sawed in two, but it came out completely blurry and the student took it home.  

Boo hoo.

It turned out fab, though. And the doll heads cut in half were big ticket items the day we spent assembling sculptures, to be sure.

Heads up: This was a project that I had to extend into two class sessions. There is too much to do in one class period, even with classroom helpers.

  • Acquire some sturdy cardboard as the base for your sculpture. I used the backing from all of my Canson Value Artist pads because I had so many laying around. They worked out perfectly. Of course you can used regular old cardboard and cut it down to the size you wanted to work with. We worked with a 9 X 12 piece.
  • Arrange your classroom so you have three working stations: one to assemble, one to glue with hot glue gun and the third for painting. This will make life easier for you because there are always students who rush through their work, and others who are very meticulous.
  • The fun part: after showing students examples of Nevelson's work, they got to dig into my found object/toy graveyard piles and pick out objects they wanted to work with. Break up the squabbles over the coveted doll heads and airplane parts.
  • Encourage students to explore different arrangements just as Nevelson did.
  • Then its off to the hot glue gun table. Yes, it might be a little time consuming and I usually melt off half of my fingertips, the end result is much neater and more sturdy compared to basic white glue.
  • This is the point where I end the first part of the project. Now I get to lug home all of these sculptures. Yay!
  • To prepare for day #2, you will need some white primer. Any primer will do. Students will need to paint a coat of primer over their sculptures so that the paint will adhere to the toys/buttons/dominos/matchbox cars, etc. I also mixed up my own shade of charcoal gray. I believe matte looks best.
  • On day #2, let students go to town priming their sculptures. The challenge is to get into all the little nooks and crannies of the toys. Primer dries fairly quickly, but if you want to speed along the process, break out with the hair dryer.
  • After the primer coat is dry, they need to paint using the charcoal grey color. I choose this color so it would look similar to Nevelson's pieces. Several of the students asked why they couldn't use blue or red...so feel free to use whatever color you want. Use the hair dryer again.
  • IMHO, the charcoal grey made the sculptures look very dynamic.
  • At our open house at the end of the semester, these sculptures were one of the most eye-catching displays.
The sculpture above was created by a third grader. As you can see, he couldn't quite get the paint into the thread spools and lego nooks. Still looks cool, though!

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  1. This is EXACTLY what Riley needs to be doing! He makes the most amazing stuff out of paper, I can only imagine what he could create!

  2. Thanks for sharing this lesson. We are going green in my art room this year, and this totally fits with what we are doing. I appreciate your detailed directions and description of materials.
    Check out what we're doing if you get a chance!


    We are still in a material-collecting phase, but pretty soon we are going to plow in full steam ahead and persue found object/ recycled material collage, assemblage and sculpture! I like your idea about using old toys as part of the materials. I will have to add that to my student's list of things to collect!

  3. You might want to look at my site. When I first started doing found art I knew nothing about Louise Nevelson. Many people in the art world told me that my work reminded them of her work. I have continued to do my thing and know much more about her but have never tried to copy her. Check it out sandraschowstudio.com


Artistically speaking....

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