Friday, January 31, 2014

Art is Awesome!: Calder Mobiles

When the girls started school in September, I knew that I was going to spend quite a bit of time volunteering there, but I wanted to pick activities that I would enjoy spending hours on. So I signed up to be library parent once a week and art docent once a month. Library parent duty actually is limited to that 45-minute time period every Tuesday, but the art docent program is a different story.

Diana and I call the program "Art is Awesome!" because, well, art is awesome. Also, alliteration's always alluring. I developed a curriculum mixing artists that I adore (Kahlo, Gaudi, O'Keeffe) and artists that I either hadn't heard of or am not as familiar with (Calder, Riley, Kandinsky, Seurat). I spend hours (okay, days) preparing each lesson, usually involving a very short Powerpoint presentation about the artist of the month and examples of that artist's work. Then I spend a couple more hours at school teaching the lesson and leading the project, done in the style of the artist. 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! Finally, I get to use my art nerd Jedi powers for good! 

The program fulfills the part of me that has always wanted to be a teacher. The girls love seeing Mama at school and they visibly puff up with pride when I show up at their classrooms for each lesson. I teach Diana's kindergarten class first, then scale the project way down for Tala's preschool class.

We started the year off with Kandinsky Trees, then O'Keeffe Flowers. This month's project was kinetic sculptures made of wire and beads that we call Calder Mobiles. 

Thanks to the parents of Mrs. Long's class for donating hangers!
The project was fairly simple, or so I thought. There are only three materials for each mobile:
1) 1 wire hanger, like the kind you get at the dry cleaners
2) 3 feet of 24-gauge jewelry wire, fairly pliable but will hold its shape
3) a bunch of beads, including letter beads to spell out names (I prepared 26 envelopes containing the letters of each kid's name to save some class time.)

I prepared each hanger by attaching the wire onto the bottom middle of the hanger and securing it with a small glob of hot glue. Then I gave the kids illustrated directions:

1) Thread a starter bead at the bottom, then thread 3-5 beads onto the first length of wire. When you have enough beads on the wire, twist it onto the hanger at the point shown here. 

2) Thread the letters of your name across the wire and make little peaks and valleys with the wire so all the letters hang down. If your name has fewer letters, you may also thread other beads to fill in the gaps.

3) Thread 3-5 beads onto the last length of wire, like you did with the first length of wire. When you are done, thread the end of the wire through the starter bead and twist the rest of the wire onto the hanger.

4) Twist and bend all the wires around a little so your beads can move but don't bunch up together. 

This is Diana's creation. Thanks, Betsy, for donating the letter beads!
The mobiles look fantastic displayed in the hall, and I've gotten lots of positive comments from proud parents who can't believe their kids did this project all on their own. Well... 

If you are a parent of one of the kids in Mrs. Long's class, then the only thing you need to know is that your kid is super proud of this artistic creation, as he/she should be. The kids worked really hard on the project, picking out beads, designing the sculptures, threading the beads, twisting the wires. They made awesome Calder Mobiles!

If you are a teacher or docent or parent looking for an artsy-crafty project to do with your kids, then you should know a few more things. 

1) On average, the kindergarteners didn't have enough manual dexterity to twist the wire onto the very specific points on the hangers. So the project's success depended on a grownup helping each kid twist the wire onto the hangers and thread the wire through the starter bead twice. That's 4 points of dependency x 26 kids. Even with four grownups in the room, it became a little chaotic.

2) When the kids handed their finished projects to me, the beads and wires all bunched up together and nearly every sculpture became a jumbled mess. I spent almost two hours after the 50-minute class outside in the hallway with my jewelry pliers, bending and twisting the wires on each sculpture so they resembled each kid's original design and all the names could be clearly read. It was my first art installation! Yay!

3) I neglected to tell everyone in the beginning that they should allow for a lot of slack on the wires so they'd be long enough to twist and bend around the 3-5 beads. Some of the wires were so tightly wound onto the hangers, the beads didn't really move the way they were meant to move.

4) If I had it to do over again, I would use pipe cleaners instead of wire. The concept is still the same, but the kids would be able to bend and twist the pipe cleaners on their own. And with pipe cleaners, they can really go wild on the 3D effect, bending the pipe cleaners in different directions outside the confines of the hanger.

Overall, the class had a blast doing the project and every time they see me the kids ask when they can take their mobiles home. If you choose to do this project with your class or your kids, just remember to scale it up or down to make it age-appropriate. Next time, I'll talk about how I scaled this project for preschoolers into Calder Jungle Animal Mini-Stabiles.

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