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Wire Sculpture for Kids (Inspired by Alexander Calder)

By MaryAnn Kohl

Kids of all ages can be inspired by the great masters of art: inspired to create in their own ways; inspired to learn more about art, the masters, and history; inspired to discover; inspired to invent and experiment; inspired to learn more about everything; inspired to dream.

Alexander Calder is an artist that kids easily relate to because his sculptures are playful, colorful, and, well, they are SCULPTURES, and kids love to create sculptures!

Here’s some fun information about the great American artist, Alexander Calder, you might enjoy sharing with your kiddos.

About Alexander Calder

July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976

Alexander Calder, called Sandy by all who knew him, was born in Pennsylvania and came from a very artistic family: his great-grandfather and his father were both sculptors, and his mother was a painter. When Calder was young, he and his sister used to play with toys and gadgets that Calder made. In 1909, when Calder was in the fourth grade, he sculpted a dog and a duck out of sheet brass as Christmas gifts for his parents. The sculptures were three-dimensional and the duck was kinetic because it rocked when gently tapped. When he grew up, he continued to create such things as games, toys, jewelry, sculptures, drawings, paintings, costumes, movie sets, and more. Through his construction of wire mobiles, he became the founder of a new art form – kinetic sculpture, which means ‘sculpture that moves.’ He created sculptures in sizes from very small to tremendously large, as well as mobiles (suspended moving sculptures), standing mobiles (anchored moving sculptures), and stabiles (sculptures that do not move). Calder is the most famous kinetic sculptor in the world.

From Page 58, Great American Artists for Kids by Kohl and Solga.

© MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga 2012
See samples of Calder’s sculptures at

Learn and see more about Alexander Calder at

How to Introduce Kids to Calder (and His Sculptures)

First, show the kids some of his works on the Internet or in a book, or if you are lucky enough, visit his work in person at a museum. Help the kids to take special notice of the wires and see the possibility of movement in his work. Teach them the word “kinetic.” Even a two-year-old loves new words!

Kinetic Sculptures with Pipe Cleaners

For kids to try their hands at an easy Calder-inspired sculpture, you will need:


  • Pipe cleaners (or other craft-wire on-hand)
  • A base (such as a rock or a block of foam insulation or foam packing. Other ideas: a can of gravel or sand, a cup of playdough, or a colander turned upside down.)
  • Decorations (any items you have on hand, like: buttons, paper scraps, stickers, beads, paint chips, bottle caps, hardware nuts, macaroni noodles, etc.)
  • Glue or tape for sticking things together (or other ideas like ribbons, string, or stickers)

* You can see I’m always saying “or”, “or try this, or try that, or what do you have on hand?” because there are so many options, and no right or wrong way to do these creative sculptures. Sometimes the special things you and your kiddos find together will inspire the sculpture to take on new life and design in ways MaryAnn Kohl never thought possible, so have some fun!

Basic Steps:

  1. The kids push the pipe cleaners into the base, or wrap around a base such as a rock. If using Styrofoam, push the wires in deep so they will be strong and hold up well.
  2. Bend the wires into designs and shapes, or leave straight. It’s inspiring to cut the wires into different lengths with scissors. Pipe cleaners cut pretty easily.
  3. Add decorations! Buttons will thread right onto the wires, and it’s easy to sandwich the wire between two gluey scraps or two stickers. Pony beads thread well onto the wires as do macaroni noodles and hardware “nuts”. Have fun choosing from whatever is on hand. You can always add cotton balls or even lumps of playdough! No rules! Wide open ideas.
  4. Wiggle or blow on or shake or otherwise enjoy the movement of the wires and decorations. Movement = Kinetic.

Note: One of the brain-challenges of this sculpture is bending and arranging the wires so the sculpture will not fall over.

What else?

Did you ever think of hanging the sculpture upside down so it becomes a kinetic mobile? Consider adding strings or ribbons too! This project is absolutely wide open for creativity and possibilities. In fact, I once saw a child hammer nails into a block of sculpture and then drape yarn from one nail head to another and say, “Look at my Calder!” That could work here too! Or add some golf tees or toothpicks. Or, or, or.

I love this kind of project because it is completely dictated by the materials on hand and the willingness of the child to explore.

Visual Examples of Calder-Inspired Sculptures

Here are some kids working with pipe cleaners and Styrofoam to build Calder-inspired sculptures. Mountain View School, Ferndale, WA, 2011.

MaryAnn and a young friend create Calder-inspired sculptures with wire and foam insulation that has been cut into small blocks. North Carolina, May 2011.

This post was contributed by MaryAnn F. Kohl. MaryAnn is the renowned author of over 20 books about art for children. Her books are published both by Gryphon House and by her own company, Bright Ring Publishing. Connect with MaryAnn online on Facebook, Twitter, and her own blog!

Categories: Activities Art

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3 replies

  1. Looking forward to Saturday and doing Calder art with ages toddler throgh middle school at the Ferndale Public Library (Ferndale, WA) Love how the kids of all ages can work together or near, and such amazingly different results will take place. We’ll be using beads, feathers, scraps, pipe cleaners and buttons, and a base of blue 1″ thick insulation polystyrene foam blocks. Not messy, and completely open ended process art, with Calder in mind.

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