5 Ways to Bring Public Sculptures into the Art Room

I have had public sculptures on the brain lately.  I don’t know if it is the theme of the upcoming Iowa-Nebraska Art Conference, my recent trip to one of my all time favorite sculptures, Cloud Gate (nicknamed “The Bean”) in Chicago,

or the recent news that my town is finally going to invest in a sculpture park (yippee!), but I can’t help thinking… how can public sculptures be incorporated into the art room?

Public sculptures are a beast to design.  They are most likely permanent, often commissioned for a purpose or to make a statement, and hope to appeal to all walks of life.  That is a tall bill!  When I see a public sculpture, I am either drawn to it and want to examine it further or not interested.  A lot of thought and planning goes into a large sculpture and some are very impressive.  Take “The Bean” for example.  This 33 by 66 foot sculpture acts like a magnet in Millennium Park.  People flock to it, they smile and laugh at their distorted reflection, and children play under it.

Chuck Close sums it up with this quote: “Sculpture occupies real space like we do… you walk around it and relate to it almost as another person or another object.”  Isn’t this kind of art experience worth discussing with your students? I hope the following ideas will spark your interest in brining public sculptures to your students in creative ways.


5 Ways to Bring Public Sculptures into the Art Room:

1. Have students create mini sculptures designed for a particular location.  Take a digital picture.  Then, cut and paste the sculpture image into the photo of the location.  This lesson touches on a lot of ideas (planning, proportion, balance, technology skills, etc.) and is an authentic problem-solving task for students to tackle.

2. Remember “Cow Parade?”  How about doing something similar, but with flamingo yard decorations?  Could be a great community builder seeing these sculptures pop up all over town.  You could even have some kind of contest with prizes from various local companies.

3. Find a visiting artist who specializes in ceramic murals and organize a large collaboration for your school or public library.  Pitch the idea to your PTO or try a fundraiser to help foot the bill.  The end product will be cherished for years to come.

4. Learn about contemporary or local public sculpture artists.  One of my favorites here in Iowa, David Williamson, uses only garbage he has pulled out of Iowa’s rivers for his huge, lively sculptures.  Sustainable art!

5.  Don’t forget the outdoor area at an art museum.  If you are fortunate enough to take your students on a museum field trip, schedule it so that you have time to enjoy the outdoor work as well as the indoor pieces.  Many sculptures are situated so that they are still viewable from inside the museum, in case of in-climate weather.

It is hard to comprehend a large public work fitting inside an art room, but it can.  Think of it this way: even if a student never bothers to go to a museum for the rest of his life (gasp!) he will still experience public sculptures.  Why not help him to understand, interpret and enjoy the view?


How do you incorporate public sculptures into your curriculum?

What is it that makes a public sculpture so powerful?  Successful?

What is your favorite public sculpture?

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • These are all fantastic ideas! I love the idea of creating mini sculptures and incorporating technology into the lesson. You have my brain spinning with ideas!

    •  Thanks Cassidy!  I actually taught the mini-sculpture lesson a few years back and the students loved it.  At the time, I used paint.net, but there are so many cool programs out now to choose from the ideas are endless.

  • I LOVE the flamingo idea. So fun!

  • Barb Duerr

    I love the idea of Christo inspired installations (a wrapped desk & chair or umbrellas hanging in the library, perhaps?) Students create proposals of their ideas and present them to the principle, just like Christo& Jean- Claude have to present their proposals to mayors of cities!

  • Christy Humpal

    Newton, IA is fortunate to have a great collection of public art.  We have started a public art tour with our 5th graders – all 250ish students are loaded onto busses and spend the entire day visiting sculptures – we have docents assigned to each work the students will be seeing (in some cases it is the artist who created it) – it is such a great experience.  

    We have also been able to contribute a couple of sculptures to the collection – we had artist John Brommel, from Des Moines, create a n amazing stainless steel cardinal (inspired by the sketches of our fifth graders and funded by numerous grants and donations), and this past spring, we held a residency with Iowa Artists Pam Dennis and Ryk Weiss (they regularly attend the Iowa Conference). 

    Including the students in the creation of public art is a great way to help students see that they can have a positive impact on their community, and foster a sense of pride in their community.  

    •  Wow!  That sounds like a wonderful experience for your students!  What did you do with Pam?  I saw her at the Iowa Conference a few years ago.  She is a neat lady :)