Art Lesson Plan: Horse Sculptures - Animal Sculptures

Five Horse Sculpture Lessons

Submitted by: by Sue Stevens
UNIT: Sculpture - Animals in Art
Grade Level: middle school (adaptable to other grades)
Additional Lesson Ideas: Alexander Calder - Folk ArtAir Dry Clay - Elementary



After a discussion on horse in art (Deborah Butterfield can be shown after the art making) and presentation on safety using materials, students construct a horse sculpture (or other animal of their choice) from sticks and natural fibers.



  1. Collect a variety of sticks. Student may bring in their own sticks too. Tip from Sue: The best time to find good sticks is spring or fall clean up - when people are trimming and bundling the twigs and cuttings from their yards... When I do this project, I just keep on the lookout for a good bundle, and then stop the car, and toss it in the trunk!

  2. Cut several down to size. Have various lengths cut for bodies, heads, legs. Student may as cut more as sculptures progress.

  3. Tip from Sue Stevens - set up each table with a power strip and glue guns. Sue was fortunate to find glue guns at a local dollar store.


2 3


1 4


Artwork from Sue Stevens - Woodstock Collegiate Institute  (Thames Valley District School Board), Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Click images for larger views. These horses range from a few inches for the small horses up to 10". Students could work in groups to create larger horses (as per Scholastic Art lesson) See also the horses of Chris McConnell.


Objectives: Students will

  • See how the horse has been a subject of artists through time

  • Construct a horse (or other animal) using found natural materials

  • Demonstrate problem solving and safety in using tools

  • Gain appreciation for work of Deborah Butterfield



Cave art paintings of horses (many can be found on line)

Deborah Butterfield - cast bronze - driftwood horse pdf - Explains casting process

Deborah Butterfield - driftwood horse cast in bronze |  Teacher's Guide pdf
Woodrow Sculpture | Walla -Walla

Lesson page with short biography from NTIEVA (Archive)

Deborah Butterfield Online  Check Google Images for more examples

Also see: Heather Jansch Driftwood Horses

Recommended for any lesson on horses: Take 5 Art Print Series, Horses.. A collection of five prints of works of art based on the horse. Includes a teacher's guide.



Deborah Butterfield. - With extraordinary focus over 25 years, Butterfield has created sculptures with a single subject: horses.

Horses: The Art of Deborah Butterfield. - More than 60 gorgeous color illustrations of Butterfield's horse sculptures appear in this book, which includes a captivating interview and a thought-provoking critique.


sculpture by Deborah Butterfield second view of sculpture by Deborah Butterfield

Cabin Creek by Deborah Butterfield, Bronze, 1999. This sculpture is located at the Meijer Gardens near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Click on the images for full size. Pictures by Ken Rohrer © 2010


Instruction / Motivation:

  1. Present an overview of the horse in art - begin with the cave art paintings (Lascaux)

  2. Discussion on abstraction in art - students will create an abstract horse (or other animal) using sticks.

  3. Demonstrate safety in using tools - (Optional) demonstrate simple armature for body (you might want to students to discover their own ways to build body). Set a size limit for individual work - students might want to work in groups for larger horses.

  4. Before or after art making: Show and discuss work of Deborah Butterfield. You might want to show other examples of driftwood horses, too (many can be found using Google images)


  1. Make some sketches of horses (or desired animal) from observation or from photographs. Simply the animal to basic forms.

  2. Examine materials to use... make some simple sketches on how horse/animal might be constructed using sticks. Cut sticks to size as needed.

  3. Construct body/armature for horse (animal)  - beginning with an A frame seems to work best. Glue pieces together and tape till glue dries. (Note: Sue's students all used glue guns, but you may not have that luxury. Her students all finished in one 75 minute period. You may have to stretch this over several shorter periods).

  4. Add neck and head. Build up body using smaller sticks.

  5. Finish horse by adding choice of fiber for mane. Moss, straw, raffia. (Optional - wrap in some corn husks - see this stick horse by Butterfield for inspiration)

  6. Study - critique work of Deborah Butterfield.

  7. Critique student work. Write a reflection piece on how your work is similar and different to that of Deborah Butterfield.

Note: This might be a good lesson to offer choice. Provide a variety of materials from which students may choose (sticks, wire, card board, assorted recycled materials etc). See some additional ideas below.  Please send in examples of student work if you do any of these lesson ideas. A more detailed lesson can then be put online - crediting you and your students.

Lesson 2 - Alternate Lesson: Wire - Alexander Calder


Calder wire horse - Calder contour drawing (from Horse Tricks)
These images were found on line and will be removed at the request of the Calder Foundation/copyright holder. They are provided here for art teachers to use with students.

Additional wire artists: Angela Hook | Elizabeth Berrien | Jean Noon | More Jean Noon

See K. Suzanne Henderson's process - Many more wire examples can be found on line

International Equine Artists- You can look up several hundred artists whose subject matter are horses.



Leonardo's Horse H. - Leonardo da Vinci earns a commission from the duke of Milan to create a sculpture to honor the duke's father a bronze horse three times larger than life. Though this creative genius spent years on the project, he died without realizing his dream

Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. - This volume gathers poems, photographs and brief contemporary essays alongside pieces from the National Museum of the American Indian to memorialize the relationship between Native Americans and their horses.



Wire that is easy to bend (see your art catalogs for sculpture wire), needle nose pliers,.pliers,.Wire Cutters., wood for bases (optional). Tooling Foil. (optional)



  1. Draw contour drawing of horse (or animal of choice). Simplify lines.

  2. Make wire contour of head, neck and body - attach additional wire to make width.

  3. Add legs and additional wires to build up form. Strengthen legs with additional wires. Sculpture can be very linear like Calder's or can be more built up. Experiment - use drawing as a guide.

  4. (Optional) add foil tooling pieces across wires for interest and for volume.

Alternate Lesson: Stable - Alexander Calder


Many of Calder's stables can be found online. See Cheval Rouge | Horse



Sketchbooks., Tag board. (for practice models), Drawing Pencils., Scissors., corrugated cardboard, Utility knives, X-acto Knives., Tacky glue. / wood glue,.Masking Tape. (and Hot Glue Gun./Glue Sticks.), Acrylic Paint. (or latex house paint)



Study the stables of Calder - experiment with cardboard construction so you will be able to trouble shoot and offer suggestions.



  1. Make some drawings of a horse (from photographs) - or any choice of animal. Show side, front and back view. Simply/abstract to basic forms. Make a sketch of possible body parts for stable.

  2. Make a practice stable. using tag board - see how parts work together. Shapes can be slotted to fit. This will be their "maquette"

  3. Draw body head and neck onto corrugated cardboard. Draw front and back leg sections.

  4. Cut out all parts with utility knife (scissors may also be used).

  5. Slot and assemble parts with glue (tape till glue dries). Add extra cardboard for strength. Add additional sections to show width of body, head and neck.

  6. Paint with acrylics or latex house paint.

Note: I used some plastic slotted animals to help give my students ideas for building cardboard animals.

Lesson 3 - Alternate Lesson: Folk Art - Recycling - Paper Maché


See whimsical wood horses of Iveta Sherman Yazzie - Navajo Folk Artist (many can be found online.

Oaxacan wood and Paper Mache. animals (see lesson plan)


Article: Oaxacan animals in papier-mache: An article from: Arts & Activities. - This digital document is an article from Arts & Activities.



Assorted cans, Pringles cans, cardboard wrapping paper tubes, paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes, cardboard scraps, Masking Tape., White Glue., newspaper, brown paper toweling (school grade - end rolls), Wheat Paste. (or substitute), Acrylic Paint., Brushes..



  1. Draw animal of choice. Abstract - simply to basic shapes.

  2. Select assortment of materials from recycled bin - can (for body), cardboard tubes for neck, legs and head.

  3. Glue and tape armature together (trim tops of cardboard tubes to fit body - cut to desired lengths). Build up any areas needed with wadded up newspaper - tape in place. Add additional cardboard scraps for ears - get creative for tails.

  4. Apply one layer of newspaper paper mache over entire armature.

  5. Apply one or more layers of brown toweling (I used end rolls that the custodian gave me). You can use additional newspaper layers, but it is easiest to paint if the last layer is not printed newspaper.

  6. Allow to dry completely

  7. Paint with acrylic paints (or latex house paints) - add patterns for fun.

Note: This is one Native American artist who would not be offended if you use these kind of materials to make his kind of art. Use caution when not using authentic materials when you teach Native arts and crafts. Use caution when you teach about religious art. Toilet paper tube kachinas would not be an appropriate lesson.

Lesson 4 - Alternate Lesson: Air Dry Clay on Armature - Frederic Remington


Frederic Remington (Many images can be found online - you will also find some nice horse sketches)

Deanna Cummins - World of Equine Sculpture - Deanna created the work on this site at the age of 17! You will find amazing cast bronze horse sculptures and an explanation of her processes. Teachers will want to share this with students. Note: all of Deanna's images and text are copyrighted. She has granted permission for teachers to show to students (in class - educational purposes only).



For this lesson, students will be introduced to the casting lost wax process. Since the majority of students would not have access to casting, this lesson will focus on modeling a realistic animal on a wire armature - then finishing with a faux bronze finish.



Sculpture Wire., wood for bases (paints or stains), Pliers,.Wire Cutters., drill, Air-Dry Clay. (or Paper Clay. - polymer could be used - See polymer clay example on this lesson) - paints for faux bronze finish (finish can be made by layering spray paints - or Acrylic Paint. - metal patina paints. may also be used).



  1. Draw horse (or choice of animal) from life or photograph, Make several views. Study the drawing and photographs.

  2. Make wire armature using drawings as a guide. To save on materials, pad body and thicker parts with newspapers (foil can be used if using polymer clays). I drilled holes in wood bases and inserted the wires. If you cover the base with wax paper, you can use the same wood as base for sculpture (sand - stain or paint base)

  3. Sculpt animal with choice of clay. Allow to dry. There may be some shrinkage with air dry clays. Any cracks in legs can be smoothed over with glue before painting. If using polymer clay, bake following manufactures recommendations.

  4. Finish with bronze patina.

Lesson 5 - Alternate Lesson: Hollow Clay Cylinders - Japanese Horse


Haniwa Horse Japan, Kofun Period (ca. AD 300–645 )
Caparisoned Haniwa Horse Japan, Kofun Period (c. 3rd century-538)
Haniwa Horse Japan, Kofun or Tomb period 550

Background information pdf - The Japanese word haniwa means "circle of clay" - from NTIEVA
More on Haniwa from NTIEVA (Archive)

Contemporary artist - Haniwa Horse sculpture by Norman Ersting (At bottom of page)

Kofun Era (for your information)

Several images of ceramics from Kofun Period (Requires an account)



Students will be introduced to ancient ceramics from Japan Kofun period (use resources above for information). Students will create their own horse (or other animal of choice) using slab and coil techniques - joining hollow cylinders. Cardboard may be used for support till leather hard stage. Note: This same lesson can be used for making animals inspired by ancient Iranian ceramics, too. I had several student construct animals this way. This was just one method we used for that unit.



Earthenware Clay., Canvas Rolls. cloth, guide sticks, Rolling Pin., Clay Modeling Tools., Fettling Knives., pottery needles,.Slip. dishes, cardboard tubes (various sizes) newspaper and cardboard, assorted dowels..Brown Shoe Polish or choice of finish.



  1. Draw horse (or other animal) - simply the form. Make a plan for constructing with cylinders. One for body, thinner for neck and head - and thinner cylinders for legs.

  2. Roll out clay (use guide sticks about 3/8" thick) - make cylinder for body first as all others will need to be made to scale in proportion to the body. Cardboard can be used for support (wrap cardboard with newspaper so it is easy to remove - any remaining newspaper will burn out). Finish off rear end of cylinder body after cardboard has been removed.

  3. Wrap dowels with newspaper - roll slab around dowels for legs. Allow to get leather hard before attaching to body. You may need to support the body with a block of wood until the legs are strong enough to support it.

  4. Cardboard or tubes may be used to support neck and head (but are not as necessary).

  5. Score and slip pieces together. Remove cardboard before firing. Add remaining details and any desired textures.

  6. All to dry - bone dry stage - bisque fire.

  7. These are nice finished with brown shoe polish for antique patina. You may choose to glaze. Earthen color textured glazes look the best.

Ideas for Elementary

Texture Animals - Lesson by Cindy Erickson - Lesson uses Model Magic.. Other air dry clays may be used.

Aluminum Foil Animals- Pinch and shape aluminum foil (paint to give a faux bronze finish) - See Calder Bronze horse.


Slab Clay Animals - Cut out body and legs (flat - about 3/8" thick). Bend over cardboard for support (till leather hard). Pinch - or add tail - score and slip to add head and neck. Animals can also be made using pinch method. Be sure body is not too thick (poke in pin holes in thick areas). This technique also works for air dry clay.


Hollow Clay Animals may be made forming over newspaper - draped slab - OR fusing two pinch pots together - poke pin holes so air is not trapped. Standing animals should have stocky legs to avoid breaking. Students might want to consider reclining animals or sitting.


Twisteez Wire. Animals (Twisteez Wire. is safer) - Elementary students can make simple wire animals. Use wire that is easy to bend and cut.


Additional Horse Sculptures of Interest

Leonardo da Vinci Horse - Cast after drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci. A clay model was made by never cast during Leonardo's life time. Metal was needed for war.

Grandfather's Horse - John Kearney - Kearney's horse (1973) is welded bumpers. Horse stands proudly at Wichita State University. More on this sculpture.

Bettye Hamblin Turner Found metal and welded steel.

Esther Benedict Sculptures - Welded steel wires - life size and table top versions. Also cast bronze.


Below: A replica of DaVinci's horse by Nina Akamu:


nina akamu's sculpture


The American Horse, Nina Akamu, dedicated 1999. Nina is recognized as one of the most talented animal sculptures of her generation. The sculpture sits at the DeVos Van Andel Piazza (named after Steve Van Andel and Doug DeVos) at the Meijer Gardens. Photos by Ken Rohrer ©. Click on all the images for the full size view.


akamu's horse sculpture       another view of her sculpture

Nina Akamu got her inspiration for this horse from her studies of the history of equine sculpture and Leonardo's sketches and drawings. Her sculpture is 24 feet tall and made of bronze. An identical casting of this horse was installed in Milan, Italy in 1999. Click on the images for full size.


Folk Art Horses of Interest

Straw Horse - from India (Archive)

Two contemporary straw horses (Belarus)

Straw horse - from Ukraine (scroll down)

Straw Horse - Japan: Wara-uma (Straw Horse)
"Although they have almost become folk toys, wara-uma and wara-ningyo, or straw-made dolls, used to have religious functions as symbols to ward off evil and bring good luck. Use was unique to each region. Some people used them in prayers to drive off a child's disease. In other regions, people considered wara-uma as a good omen. They would put it on the doorstep on New Year's eve and when they found it New Year's morning they would worship it as a god. Wara-uma take various shapes according to the region, and the one pictured above is carrying an ear of rice on its back." (copied from the link above)


If anyone does any of the above lessons, please send in examples of student work. Include any information on how you did the lesson with your students so a more detailed lesson can be put online crediting you and your students.



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