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Process and Product: Sculpture

Explore activities, ideas, and artworks to learn more about sculpture techniques- and get inspired to create! This unit features a video with a contemporary working artist who makes sculptures, image galleries of sculptures from the National Gallery's collection, an explainer that dives into the basics of sculpture, and a lesson for beginner experimentation with a sculpture technique. This resource is intended for grades 6-12.

Hear From An Artist About Her Work

In this video, artist Jenny Wu discusses her approach to sculpture and how she developed her personal style as an artist.

After you watch the video, talk about these questions.

  • Why did the artist experiment with a variety of techniques?
  • What materials did she use to create sculptures?
  • What does she find intriguing about sculpture as a medium?
  • What interests you about sculpture?

Sculpture From the National Gallery of Art

Artists use different methods and materials to create three-dimensional sculptures. As you look at each group of images, consider these questions.

  • How does each artist use scale, color, line, and shape?
  •  What materials are used in these sculptures?
  • How do you think the artists prepare to make these sculptures
  • How do you see the artists manipulating space in these sculptures
  • What feeling or story does each sculpture communicate? Why do you think that?
  • What about these sculptures surprises or inspires you?
This rectangular, tangerine-orange panel has rounded corners and a black dot at the center. It hangs on a dove gray wall and is about three times as tall as it is wide. The surface appears streaked with golden yellow where light reflects off some areas of the wax, especially in the top half.

Lynda Benglis, 1st Wax Work, 1966, purified pigmented beeswax, dammar resin, and powdered aniline dye on Masonite, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, 2016.11.4

Lynda Benglis, Sparkle Knot XII, 1972, aluminum wire mesh, cotton bunting, plaster, paint, and glitter, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, 2007.6.90

Lynda Benglis, Comet, 1982, bronze wire mesh with sprayed zinc, aluminum, and copper, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, 2019.154.2

Lynda Benglis, Untitled, 1968, poured pigmented latex, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, 2016.11.2

Lynda Benglis (born 1941) is an American artist who incorporates a wide variety of materials, such as aluminum, cotton, latex, and beeswax, into her three-dimensional works of art. Benglis experiments with techniques to create various forms, and she often thinks of her sculptures as extensions of her body’s movements.

A dark-colored hoop, perhaps black, is shown against a white background. A sliver of lemon yellow is painted across the top edge of the hoop. The nearly perfect symmetry of the circle is broken only by a slight bend on the upper right.

Martin Puryear, Blue Blood, 1979, polychromed pine and red cedar, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the Truland Foundation), 2014.136.288

Martin Puryear, Jack Pot, 1995, canvas, pine, and hemp rope over rubber, steel mesh, and steel rod, Gift of Edward R. Broida, 2005.142.31

Martin Puryear, Lever No. 3, 1989, carved and painted wood, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 1989.71.1

Martin Puryear, Minion, 1981, painted ponderosa pine, Gift of Nancy and Carl Gewirz, 2020.114.1

Martin Puryear (born 1941) lives and works in Washington, DC. He usually sculpts single blocks of wood, using his skills in carving to transform wood into works of art. As a young artist Puryear travelled to West Africa to study basket weaving and woodworking. These craft traditions influenced his methods as a sculptor.

Claes Oldenburg, Glass Case with Pies (Assorted Pies in a Case), 1962, burlap soaked in plaster, painted with enamel, with pie tins, in glass-and-metal case, Gift of Leo Castelli, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991.54.1

Claes Oldenburg, Sneaker Lace Sculpture, 1990, hand-painted, cast stainless steel, Gift of Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist, 2016.63.4

Claes Oldenburg, U.S.A. Flag, 1960, muslin, plaster, tempera, and wire, Gift of John and Mary Pappajohn, 2004.154.1

Claes Oldenburg, Ice Bag—Scale B, 1971, yellow Nylon, gray Fiberglas, zipper, and Velcro with animated mechanical components, Gift of Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist, 1981.5.139

Claes Oldenburg (born 1929), an artist born in Sweden, makes large-scale sculptures of everyday objects, including tubes of toothpaste, food, and jewelry. Oldenburg uses rigid, durable materials for his outdoor sculptures, while many of his other works are made of vinyl, nylon, and other soft but sturdy materials.