Alexander Calder and Wire Sculptures

Supplies: Have a quantity of 20 gauge or lighter wire, available with or without colored plastic insulation. One option is to use new or recycled telephone and other electrical cables, which contain many small colored wires. These can be individually removed by slicing the casing with a razor knife. If new cable is purchased the hardware store will cut it into 30" pieces with their cable cutter. The teacher will need the following tools: wire cutters, an ice pick, needle-nose pliers, small pieces of light colored mat board (cut to about 4"x5'') and masking tape.
Note: Study the art of Alexander Calder, his mobiles, stabiles, animated circus animals and wire sculptures. Many books and videos are available and slides can introduce this playful artist to students. Wire sculptures work best with students in second grade and older.
  1. To make a wire relief face, bend a 30" piece of wire in half around a finger, then hold the wire close to the bend with one hand and twist an oval balloon shape with the other hand. Point the balloon down and make it look like a nose (fig.1, shown with plain wire). Separate the two wires and bend them to form eyebrows or eyes. The two wires on opposite sides of the face can be bent up to make some hair, then folded down to develop the sides of the face and chin, and up to make a mouth (fig.2). Students need to ad lib and have fun bending the wires to form parts of the face. There are many approaches, but starting with the twisted balloon in the middle of the wire is helpful.
  2. Teachers need to mount the wire relief face on a mat board backing (fig.3). Lay the wire face on the mat board, noting where the two wire ends touch the mat board. Poke holes through the mat board with the ice pick where the wire touches. Put the wire through the holes, bend the wire flat onto the backside of the mat board, trimming wire if necessary, and tape it in place.
  3. Make a wire animal using two 30" pieces of wires insulated with colored plastic. Instruct students to place the two pieces of wire together, locate the mid-point the wires and twist a balloon (fig.4). Separate the two wires that comprise the balloon, one balloon can point down representing an animal nose. The second balloon can point up representing two ears, when the upper curve of the balloon is dented downward in the middle. Separate the remaining paired wires into single wires, which point downward. At about 2" in length each leg bends upward towards the head and wraps around the neck for stability (fig.5). Twist a foot on each leg. Have all wires come out of the neck perpendicular to the head and front legs, starting to form the body. At the rear of the body bend two wires down and back up again to form the rear legs (fig.6). As the wires come back up from the feet, wrap around the body for support. The rest of the wire can be used to shape the body and the tail. For a spring like tail wrap the wire around a pencil.
  4. Students need a paper and pencil. Pretending that the pencil line is a wire, make a line drawing without picking up the pencil. With out picking up the pencil, try drawing a face, a person, a bird, other animals or a car. The continuous line drawings look like wire sculptures.

©   Deborah Padrick   2001