Working Big: A Teachers’ Guide to Environmental Sculpture.

by Amy Collier

Air Tunnels

An air tunnel is sculpture. An air tunnel is environment. An air tunnel is experience. Because of these ambiguities, an air tunnel can be a rich art resource for the teacher.

From the outside, an air tunnel, with the sun glinting off its glistening contours and the surroundings mirrored in its rounded surfaces, is an impressive and compelling sculptural form. Inside it is a magical world, always refreshingly clean and more than often cool; what is outside, even in the meanest neighborhood, is experienced as pleasantly distorted color shapes so that reality seems a million miles away. This magical feeling of unreality is heightened by the fact that exterior sounds are muffled and that light is softer, milky, diffuse, different from what we ordinarily experience.

The Artist Shapes as the Child Shapes
Francisco Sobrino, Structure Permutationelle E.S.1, 1970
Stainless steel, 20″ x 20″ x 20″

Building Big with Cardboard

Working with modules of their own devising, which can be stacked and restacked, ordered and reordered, students can create designs in which the only mistakes are architectural ones. Once the basic unit is established, the students will perceive a certain design logic that not only articulates form but ensures structural validity.


Because the elements are so easy to manipulate, students are seldom satisfied with mundane solutions but respond to the challenge of creating exciting forms that require precise positioning of each unit within the whole.

Working Big Outdoors

Here we see a straight-line design problem typically tackled in the classroom by individual students working on their own with rulers, manila paper, and crayons or India ink blown up to such dimensions that a team of youngsters is needed to solve the same space-division problem. They do not use classroom-size supplies but large-scale materials that, although simple in themselves, invite exciting and dramatic designs and allow maximum freedom of invention. Working with long strips of white dressmakers’ buckram, the team here lays out a basic design.

Building Big with Cardboard and Light, Working Walls

Light determines sculptural form. We cannot appreciate or build sculpture without understanding the role light plays in the plastic arts.


The modular possibilities of cardboard boxes lend themselves as readily to relief sculpture as to sculpture in the round. In some respects the student working in relief with boxes can be freer, as there are no architectural restrictions. He is confronted with a design problem more than with a structural one.

Experiencing Real Space

No desk-top approach will engender the excitement about space or yield more personalized knowledge about it as an art element than building a cardboard maze, for example, and exploring its restricting length, or discovering the spatial euphoria of a plastic bubble you have helped construct yourself.

Air Cushions

So far we have concentrated most of our teaching energies into involving the child in such physical areas of art as color and two-dimensional space. We have done little to awaken him to the experience of real space. We have directed our attentions toward involving him in art process and art appreciation without at the same time creating situations in which he could experience spatial sensation and realize his own body as an instrument of creative expression.

Air cushions allow us to work toward both of these ends by providing a physical environment with which the child can realize his own physicality and experience himself as a dimension of the real-space environment.


A Skilsaw plus some oversized sheets of two-ply cardboard suggest any number of big and exciting sculptural projects for junior- and senior-high-school students. Here Danny Dobkin, an eighth-grade student at the Collegiate School in New York City works […] with a Skilsaw and three sheets of cardboard to construct a life-size figure.


Sawed-off cardboard has an exact quality that lends itself to multiple sculpture. The sides of both units of the sculpture shown here were cut with a Skilsaw from the four sides of a discarded cardboard carton. The edges are strips of corrugated cardboard glued and pinned into place. Everything fits so beautifully that from any angle the sculpture has all the precision of a similar piece cut from steel or acrylic.


Even though the face of one column appears black while the other appears gray, in reality the cardboard was untouched. Because the columns are a few inches apart, it is possible to leave one unit in deep shadow while the other is highlighted.


Right image: Four sheets of cardboard were used to emphasize the sinuous nature of the design. Lights were placed behind it and angled so that they would reflect off the many edges of the sculpture to point up its linear quality and reiterate its complexities.

Left image: The same scuplture takes on an entirely different character when a strip of corrugated cardboard is glued and pinned in place to hide its edges. Kleenex and a 50-percent solution of Elmer’s Glue scumbled on its surfaces gives it a heavy, solid feeling. A metallic spray increases the illusion of massive weight by suggesting that it is in fact metal.

Children and Artists Work Big Together
Eric Reische, Untitled, 1971
Marble, 13½’ x 7′ x 12½’

More often than not, large-scale art projects cannot be accomplished by a single artist working on his own. If he wishes to achieve anything that exceeds a normal scale, he must plan on working as a member of a team. It is not unusual for such projects to involve a whole community. Here we see school children of Randolph, Vermont working alongside artists to produce sculpture that will become part of the community environment. While they are working in a traditional sculptor’s material, marble, they are involved in the same basic experiences that children working big in the classroom enjoy.

[ All images & text excerpts © ]
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A recent book find, above is a taste of the gorgeous black and white photography and concepts from the 1975 educators’ instruction book by John Lidstone and Clarence Bunch entitled, Working Big: A Teachers’ Guide to Environmental Sculpture. Photography and design by the authors. At the time of the 1975 publication both Lidstone and Bunch were art educators at Queens College, New York.

From the back cover:

(Lidstone and Bunch) introduce the teacher to practical methods, based on successful programs in elementary and secondary schools, of implementing large-scale art activities. These make art a reality rather than a desk-top exercise and intensify students’ awareness of the physical world from which the elements of art are derived.


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