Saturday, August 27, 2011

100th Post - Alexander Calder

Wow! How fast a year goes by. I started this blog last September, primarily to communicate with classroom teachers in my school about the specifics of their students' lessons. Here we are, almost a year later, and while I still use this space to provide details for my own school, the reach of "Fine Lines" has sort of morphed to include parents, other art teachers and I guess people just interested in what we do in our schools.

I haven't yet started teaching kids and took advantage of this free time to visit the Orange County Museum of Art (which I just discovered recently via someone else's blog) to see a FABULOUS Alexander Calder exhibit title, Form, Balance, Joy (isn't that a perfect title??).

For a relatively small (which I like) museum, they had quite a few pieces on display. Unfortunately, they didn't allow photography, so I can't show you the terrific mobiles and stabiles I saw. You can see some of them at this link here, but I don't know whether they will keep it up after the close of the exhibition (Sept.4).

Of course, I was totally inspired and came home intent on working some of what I saw into this year's curriculum. So today, as I watched CNN and hope that all of you on the East Coast are safe, I started playing around with 24 gauge florist wire (which was what I happened to have around the house at my fingertips), some plain sewing thread and copier paper from the printer, to see how hard this would be for kids to do. Some of our 2nd graders study Balance and Motion as a Science Unit, so they have a bit of knowledge about counterweights, balance points, etc.
I started with strips of copy paper -- about 1 and a half inches wide. Then I folded up the bottom corner and cut to make a square. This is a good skill for kids to have for math (geometry).
I already had one diagonal fold, so I folded the other diagonal, too, to aid with the thought processes of patterning. 
I frequently ask students to decide on a color system for their work. For mine, I kept it simple and used primary colors. This first square had all straight lines.
This square is the back side of the the one above. Using the same progression of primary colors and a similar pattern, I used curved lines instead of straight.
Counterweights are, of course, a consideration in mobile construction, so some of my squares had to be lighter. I designed this on one square and folded it in half diagonally.
I cut my wires to about 4"-5", twisted a loop on either end and one as a fulcrum  off center.
I read somewhere that Calder worked from the inside out as he balanced his pieces. I just started with one wire until it balanced (sort of).
Then I added it to the end of my second wire and played around until I got it to balance.
I hope that my students have as much fun with this as I did. I'm thinking of using it with 4th graders and incorporating Hundertwasser. I have some other ideas how to integrate this in with the study of other artists, too. You will have to check back during the year to see where we go with our mobiles!!


  1. I'll be interested in seeing the results. I haven't done mobiles in years, because I just don't know where/how to hang them to balance them. I'm not supposed to hang stuff from the ceiling (though I did get away with hanging those flying pigs last year, because we'd already passed the fire inspection). Plus I get really frustrated with a bunch of things hanging with string - potential for tangles! Good luck!

    Meanwhile, waiting to see what tomorrow's weather will bring us here a few hours north of NYC, but more concerned about my son living in Boston, who told me it was already hailing tonight but he was still going to work (at a restaurant) and was supposed to work tomorrow too. He walks to/from work and gets off VERY late at night. I'll be happy to hear that he's safe.

  2. The thread was a bit tangly as I worked. I may rethink the design before having kids do it.

  3. I'm still curious - where do you hang them for the kids to work on them & balance them?

    Meanwhile - my son went to work today (waiter at a restaurant; why were they even open today?) and hopefully will make it home safely after his shift. Storm seems to have pretty much passed on.

  4. Glad your son is safe and sound. I heard on the news about one deli owner who couldn't get home because transit was suspended, spent the night in his deli and was open bright and early for those out roaming around!!

    About the mobiles, I have the kids do the art work before assembling the wire and thread. Once the assembling begins I hang them from a dowel. ( I think I can get about 15 per dowel) However, it has been a while since I last did mobiles and I had forgotten how annoying the thread can be when someone drops their assemblage, so I've decided to do the more complicated ones with just connected wire. I fooled around with it today, and I really liked it better. I am planning to do one mobile (hanging or standing) for each grade level, with each getting a bit more detailed than the previous grade. I am really jazzed about this!! I am more concerned about storing and displaying the standing versions, as I have a bit of counter space in the room, but no place in the school outside of my room for that type of display.

    By the way, I did see on the news a picture of an overturned bus somewhere in upstate NY and thought of you - glad to hear the rain has moved on.