Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994
Submitted by: Dawn Stieneker
Unit: Art and Technology - Design - Alexander Calder
Lesson Plan: Utilitarian Design
Grade Level: Middle School
Calder's La Grande Vitesse located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This sculpture weighs 42 tons and stands four stories high. La Grande Vitesse means "Great Swiftness," a reference to the river that flows through the heart of the city. The work was commissioned in 1967 to be installed on Vandenberg Plaza. The work was dedicated by the artist in June 1969. It was the first piece of public art in America to be financed entirely through the combination of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and private funds. This sculpture has been adopted by the city of Grand Rapids as it's logo and center for their annual festival of the arts.
Objectives: Students will
* Gain an awareness for the work of Alexander Calder
* Study a variety of utilitarian objects and discuss their purposes - What makes a good design?
* Create graphic of a utilitarian piece using computer graphic software (any paint program
Above: La Grande Vitesse by Alexander Calder, 1969. The sculpture is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the Calder Plaza. Images by Ken Rohrer. Click the images for full size.
Images of work by Alexander Calder, Computer, Paint software (any program will work), printer.
Web Quest worksheet.
Book: Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy - This 5-star book features new scholarship on Calder’s creative reuse of materials. Scholar George Baker evaluates how the modern era in general and Calder in particular have influenced young sculptors. Exhibition organizer Lynne Warren contributes an overview of current sculptural practices in relation to Calder’s work. 113 color and 21 black-and-white photographs.
Book: Alexander Calder - A complete book on Calder's works, paintings, jewelery and his huge sculptures.
Utilitarian - organic - inorganic
Internet Resources for Alexander Calder
Books on Alexander Calder - prints of works by Calder. (See above in materials)
Alexander Calder Online - Artcyclopedia's page
American Masters- A page by PBS
Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art Form- By the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago
Alexander Calder- ArtNet's page
Alexander Calder- By the Whitney Museum of American Art
Alexandercalder.com- A commercial tribute site
Show students examples of Alexander Calder's utilitarian works. Show examples of utilitarian objects from around the house. Someone had to design the objects.
1. I started with a general discussion of what art is and where we find it...
The first day I introduced some of Calder's utilitarian works - the airplane, a hammock, the spoons and utensils he made for his house, and his wife Louisa hooking a rug for their house.
We also talked about shapes - organic and inorganic shapes. Look a variety of utilitarian objects - discuss form and function.
2. The next day we went to the lab. We looked at Calder's sculptures and mobiles. This would be a good time to do the Alexander Web Quest assignment (Dawn was not able to complete the web quest)
Students learned about repetition and overlapping.
We then had a lesson on the paint and draw tools. Students were required to use the icons to create geometric shapes and had to use the free draw tool to create their own organic shapes.
Students then learned how to copy and paste and resize their shapes - and save images.
3. The next day we returned to the lab to create our own utilitarian designs.
We looked at Calder's sculptures again and talked about balance and point of emphasis.
Students then began working independently. Some classes took 2 days to complete their designs; others took 3.
They had to print out a black line version of their design (we didn't have access to a color printer) and then went back and colored it using paint tools and textures and saved their final image to disk.
4. Students were then required to write and proposal/artist's statement saying what the designs were intended for and how they went with Calder's work.
This was followed by our first critique.
After this I used Calder's wire sculptures to lead into contour drawing.
A collector of art has recently acquired one of Alexander Calder’s mobiles.
You have been commissioned to design a utilitarian piece of artwork that will compliment (not mimic) Calder’s artwork.
Coincidentally, the collector’s new piece is currently online at (in other words, you get to select it!)
Carefully analyze the work and consider how Calder used the elements and principles of design.
What types of shapes were used? ____________________
Were they used repeatedly? _________________________
What is the color scheme? __________________________
Where is the point of emphasis? ______________________
How is it balanced? ________________________________
You will be using a paint program to create your utilitarian design.
· Use both geometric and organic shapes in your design.
· Use repetition of line or shape.
· Have an identifiable point of emphasis.
· Balance the composition.
(print the composition before filling in colors)
· Select a related color scheme.
SAVE AS: class period-last name (IE. Art2-Stienecker)
10% - Effort 50% - Project criteria
10% - Originality (Geometric and organic shapes)
10% - Artistic Process (Color scheme, repetition)
10% - Craftsmanship (Emphasis, balance)
10% - Artist’s statement
Check Off List
Effort - I am following instructions and using my time well __________
Originality - I am generating ideas related to task __________
Artistic Process – I am effectively planning and refining ideas __________
Craftsmanship – I am exploring the medium appropriately __________
My design uses…
Geometric and Organic shapes __________
A similar color scheme __________
Artist’s Statement – My statement articulates my intent __________
At a time many artists were extremely serious in the creation of "modern" art, Calder was playful. He surrounded himself with his creations. He did not make distinctions between "high art" found in a museum and "low art" found in the everyday world.
Do you consider utilitarian objects art?
What would life be like if this type of work did not exist?