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Wire Circus and More

Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth, art teacher at LaFrance Elementary in LaFrance, SC
Unit: Sculpture - Alexander Calder
Grade Level: Second grade (adaptable to higher grades)
Time: 2 class periods



In preparation for this lesson, students went to a performance and made mobiles. They had done balancing things on the playground and had a local university's cheerleading squad come and demonstrate stunts that required balance so we tied a lot into the whole lesson on Calder.

  1. Show PowerPoint (or slides) of Alexander Calder's wire sculptures and circus acts. Show video, Calder's Circus, if available. See this pdf pdf of a PowerPoint presentation on Calder. Also see this PowerPoint of Calder ppt

  2. Demonstrate wire sculpture techniques

Have some fun! Start with Greg Percy's song "World On a String (Calder).
Circus Theme Projects (below)


Objectives: Students will

  • Learn about he life and work of Alexander Calder

  • Create a wire sculpture on a circus theme

  • Collaborate in groups

1 2

Acts on the high wire Cannon, trained seal, animals and more


3 4

Animal acts Cannon detail



  1. Talk about the Circus - What are some of the different acts? What kind of act do you want to show? How can you show that with wire?

  2. Twist a loop to make the head of animal or person. Fold wire to make a loop for hands or feet. Twist wire to strengthen arms. Add on additional wire for body and legs. Make loop for feet - twist wire to strengthen legs. Try to make figure to correct proportions.

  3. Mount finished sculptures on card board scrap bases (teacher does this with hot glue gun)

  4. (Teacher) Bend hanger wire to make high wire - support to card board circus ring with scrap cardboard.

  5. Glue finished wire sculptures to circus ring (teacher does this with hot glue gun).

  6. Make audience by cutting ovals from paper - draw faces - glue to cardboard.

  7. Writing assignment: Students do a descriptive writing project where they write..."My job in the circus... They are also going to write about how they all worked to make the circus. Then the circuses are all on display in March for our big school wide writing night.


Twisteez Wire. or any thin Twisteez Wire. cut to manageable lengths (TwisteezWire. is better because it is safer for children), scrap Mat board., corrugated card board (pizza rounds), Pipe Cleaners., card board tubes, hanger wire, hot Glue Gun./Hot Glue Sticks.




4Circus Theme Projects:

Submitted by: Melissa Gonzoles, Alice Peck Elementary School
UNIT: Shapes - Circus
Lesson: Construction paper Clowns - Geometric Shapes
Grade: Kindergarten

I do a lesson based on a video called Colors and Shapes Circus.. Using precut geometric shapes in all sizes in primary and secondary colors (I use the die cuts in our media center), each child arranges the shapes to make a clown.


Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth, LaFrance Elementary
Unit: Painting - Color - Circus _ Portrait
Lesson: Rouault Clowns - Tempera Painting
Grade level: Fifth grade (good for grades 3 through 5)


51st day student see a Power Point on Rouault and kids take notes, (I stress his background was in stained glass work - talk about how gloomy his work is). We compare his paintings with stained glass. I put up on the board lots of clip art and photos of clowns. They do thumbnail sketches of clowns in Sketchbooks..


2nd day- they paint the outline with black Acrylic Paint. (I don't let them draw with pencil first , they reference their best sketch and just paint about a 3/4 in. Sable Brushes.


3rd day - egg carton with 3 primary colors, black and white goes at each table. They paint right on the page and mix colors as they go, no water to clean brushes.


4th day- complete a rubric on project and quiz on Rouault (part of rubric is also naming three new colors they have created and tell how they got the color). We usually do this lesson following a Color Wheels. lesson.


6 Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth
Lesson: Texture Clowns
Grade level: Second Grade


This was a one day lesson... I started the drawing on the board with 2 big curved lines ( ) . They drew along with me on their own paper, trying to guess what we were doing. We did a step-by step drawing of a basic clown with his arms up. Then I showed them different shoes, hair, ways to do eyes, etc. All of our first clowns looked pretty similar. Then they got to draw a 2nd clown and be creative with the feet, hair, etc. They were drawing with black Sharpie Fine Point Markers.. After they knew what we were drawing and had a chance to practice, most of the students thought their 2nd clown was better. Next, to add to the lesson, I had them use crayons and the texture sheets to rub texture and color into the clowns. Since they had 2 pictures, I asked that they leave one and let them take one home.


To throw in a little art critique, we put all the clowns that were staying on display at a back table and as the students left the room, they voted on their favorite clown by dropping a small scrap of paper on the clown (I had already cut a bunch of little pieces for them) It was a quick easy way to do a vote and get them thinking about why they liked a particular clown. Also they didn't have time to ask who had done each one. They really turned out well for a quickie lesson. We used them in the hall when we had our big circus night also.




Submitted by: Deborah Johnson, Van Hise Elementary
Unit: Circus - Portrait - Color - Mixed Media
Lesson: Clown with tissue collage
Grade Level: Second Grade


The circus clown lesson combined different ideas from TeacherArtExchange members and other sources. 2nd grade classes began with drawing the clown face and shoulders, clothing, hair, and accessories in pencil on black Construction Paper., then painted the face with white Tempera Paint. (2 coats), and outlined all of the lines with glue. Next class the features were drawn in black Crayons. and costumes, hair, and features were colored with Oil Pastels.. I made a poster with different ways the features could be drawn. 3rd class was spent making the background - strips of Tissue paper. glued down with starch, and confetti pieces of tissue glued over that. The clowns were cut out and glued to the background with Elmer's Glue..


9 Submitted by: Deborah Johnson, Van Hise Elementary
Unit: Circus - Mixed media - Geometric Shapes
Lesson: Circus Bears - Cut paper
Grade Level: First grade


Circus bears were done by 1st grades. The collars are big milk filters (big coffee filters would work, too) from Farm and Fleet painted with liquid Watercolor Paint. and Glitter Paint.. The next session was skills practice with cutting and gluing. The milk filter was folded in half and a small slit cut in the center, then slipped on to a paint stick handle and glued. The bear heads were glued on top of that.



10Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth
Lesson: Circus Seals


Jeryl does her kindergarten interdisciplinary with the kindergarten teacher. Each week is a new letter of the alphabet. Here is "S " week. In the circus there are seals. She read "Spot Goes to the Circus". First they drew their seals then they painted them. They colored a ball for the seal to balance. Background was added.


Added by Susan Holland:

I did clown paintings with 2nd and 3rd, with my main objective being to teach procedures for painting with liquid tempera. (They were doing a "Circus Circus" musical program in music class and we used the paintings on the back drop for that.)

For the clowns, I had students paint the answers to a series of questions I asked them, starting with: "What shape is your clown's head?" Then we went on with questions like, Is the clown happy or sad? What is the clown wearing on it's head? What shape is the nose? etc.

Here is a website we looked at looked at for inspiration before we started
painting: http://www.ringling.com/activity/clownfun/


Submitted by: Kellie Wilkie
Lesson: Circus Clown Cubism


Draw a contour line drawing of the face of a clown. Discuss all features that make a clown a clown. Add things like a squirting flower or a flower in his hat. Then cut it up into about 7 pieces or so then rearrange and tape together. Trace new design onto white paper and add color. You could link this to a Picasso or cubism type of project.


Submitted by: Deborah Johnson, Van Hise Elementary
Unit: Circus - Mixed media - Animals
Lesson: Circus Train
Grade Level: Kindergarten and First Grade


The circus train was done by kindergarten and 1st grades. I believe the original lesson was in School Arts.. The circus animals were drawn and colored in crayon. In the next class students glued down strips for the train car's bars; a wider strip was folded in half and cut in a pattern for a symmetrical decorative top, and wheels were cut out and glued on. Glue line and glitter decorations were added at a station before the Drying Rack..


Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth
Lesson: Circus Train


We spent two weeks working in mini-sketchbooks learning how to draw 5-6 circus animals from Ed Emberly's Drawing Book of Animals.. I don't do a lot of drawing like that but I think every once in awhile it can really empower little ones. Also good connections because he uses shapes , numbers and letters in his drawings. I love it when they come with drawings from home where they have taken some animal we learned and added jungles, etc.. They are really proud of themselves and confident so I think its justified. I cut some copy paper in half and stapled them to make a mini-sketchbook for them. We did about 2-3 animals each session using big markers. After we did the animal, I let them add backgrounds, details, bodies. (lots of Ed's animals are just the head) This was all in the sketchbook. On the third day they drew their favorite circus animal on a 9"X12" (23 x 30.5 cm) Manila Paper..


Animals are drawn with Crayons. or AquaMarkers. - train car is Construction Paper.. I let them pick one piece of 3x12 (7.6 x 30.5 cm), one piece of 4x12 (10 x 30.5 cm) colored paper and two wheels (I precut with the Die Cutting Machine) and several skinny strips (also pre-cut by me on the cutting board-if I didn't pre-cut we would never have put it together in one class time) -all in primary colors.


With kindergarten and first I use a lot or primary color schemes just to reinforce. We folded the 4X12 piece in half and cut from the corner to the fold to make the fancy top on the car. They glued down the skinny strips for bars, the fancy piece on top, the straight piece on the bottom and then the wheels. I pulled several kids from first one day to have them make some engines for the train.


3 Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingswowrth
Lesson: Circus Elephants - Texture Lesson - Grade level: 2nd grade


Jeryl reads Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young to her students. See poem - retold from an Indian folk tale.


From Jeryl: I've used this lesson previously and the students did an elephant in the jungle. Since we had a circus theme, they put the elephant in a ring at the circus. Because these students had done the wire circus, they had a good concept of the 3-d look of a circus ring.


jeryl-f10.jpg (23239 bytes)They drew a circle with faces for the audience. Each student got half of a paper bag and I asked them to crumple it up. Then stomp on it. Then open it up. Crumple it again and sit on. Open it up, crumple it and stomp again. (this can go on and on) We talk about how the texture of the paper has changed. Then I demonstrate tearing shapes and putting it together to make an elephant. I usually read them a book about elephants - Seven Blind Mice. which is about some blind mice that are feeling different parts of the elephant and talking about what they think it looks because each one feels a different part of the elephant - the one who feels the tail thinks its like a rope, the one who feels the tusk thinks its like a spear - Has great illustrations also. They tear the elephant parts and glue them down, add details with sharpie markers-like the wrinkly lines and toenails. They used markers to add the other parts of the background. Crayons. and/or Colored Pencils.. could be used to color the circus. This would be a good lesson for texture panels.


1Foil Circus Figures - From Jeryl Hollingsworth

Students begin by drawing some figure studies. They discuss figure proportion. Foil figures are made- then wrapped with masking tape and painted. Many different circus performers were created. Find out more about Jeryl's foil people.


Click image for full size


Circus Collage
Submitted by:
Pam Whisenhunt, Kingsbury Day School in Washington, D.C.

Pam works with special education students. Click images to see full size.


Pam-circus1.jpg (88399 bytes) pam-circus3.jpg (87634 bytes)


These canvases were created by the 240 students at Kingsbury - all special ed students - under the direction of art teachers Hillary Gruber at the elementary, Deb Vitkova at the middle school , Pam Whisenhunt with the high school, and Jessica Wade, assistant to Pam. From Pam: The clown with a background is actually an original collage by a 10th grade student who does not have very good motor skills. We were very short on time and I had to have some of the students copy clip-art images, but require that they change them in some way.

On the collages: they were done on eight 30" x 40" (76 cm x 101.6 cm) Canvas Panels.. The elementary children, depending on level, either 1) traced and decorated circus seals, balls, stars or elephants, 2) decorated water-colored bits of paper to be used as "Matisse-cut-out bits" for filling in spaces or 3) created clown faces. The middle school students had to create any circus image they wanted within the confines of a 4" square; and the high school students were to do something with the more complex forms of the human or animal figures. Again, some of these (i.e., the penguin - see penguin detail) were taken from clip-art images, but they were all changed or decorated in some original manner.


pam-circus2.jpg (80891 bytes) pam-circus4.jpg (67507 bytes)

The three teachers and one assistant used tape to mask off smaller sections of the canvases. We then selected a color scheme or each and painted the backgrounds with some help from the high school students. The teachers did the final selection and organization of the pieces on the backgrounds, succeeded in including all work that was clearly a circus image. We then coated the canvases with at least 3 layers of Mod Podge.. We think they were pretty successful. Of the 8, I believe 5 were auctioned off, and most were donated back to the school. I felt like the process was a great way to do group art that cut across ages and ability, and could be easily replicated using any theme one wanted. The results are pretty professional looking.


pam-circus5.jpg (77470 bytes)

Here is a separate composition by one of Pam's students. She used a clip-art image, redrew and created her own background, Pam thinks it has a very French/European look to it.


Circus Links:
Alexander Calder Circus: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters
Images (Google Image Search) | http://www.wirecircus.com/ (Archive) Artist inspired by Calder Clown portraits -- tie in George Rouault http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/rouault_georges.html | http://www.kidsart.com/IS/403.html some images Google image search See the Ringling Museum of the Circus. They could design a circus poster: Google Image Search (Select images yourself that are suitable for students)

The Circus in America: 1793-1940 (Archive) - This multimedia site brings together a range of primary materials (including video clips) that tell the stories of six major American circuses from 1793 to 1940.



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