Calder Wire Sculpture for Fifth Grade

calder wire sculpture pinable

Of all the famous artists we study, students think Alexander Calder is the most fun.  Fifth graders made Calder-inspired wire animal sculptures.

Alexander Calder’s Fish (1944).


5th graders made wire sculptures focusing on contour. Allow 2-3 40 minute sessions.


Notes: When buying wire, the higher the gauge, the thinner and more flexible the wire. The wires below are soft enough for students to cut with our blunt-tip school scissors! Simplify your life and buy pre-cut 18″ floral wire (available at floral suppliers, Wal-Mart and Michaels).


  • spool of  Dick Blick 14-gauge Armature and Sculpture Wire , (cut one 3 ft. piece per student) (note: compensated affiliate link)
  • pre-cut 18″ floral wire, 20 or 22 gauge, ‘bright’ (silver-colored aluminum)
  • pre-cut 18″ floral wire, 26 gauge. I call this super-fine and flexible wire ‘sewing wire’ because it is fine enough to pass through sequins, beads and window screen.
  • embellishments: buttons, beads, sequins, aluminum pot scrubbers, pipe cleaners, aluminum window screen.
  • sketch paper (we use 8.5″x11″ copy paper)
  • markers for sketching
  • optional: Ziploc gallon-size storage bags for storing unfinished work between sessions

We begin by looking at this Calder wire sculpture Powerpoint. Next students sketch a contour drawing of an animal on copy paper. The sketch should touch all four edges of the paper and should be simple. Then students trace the contour with 14 gauge sculpture wire, overlap the ends and twist to secure.

Trace marker sketch with wire.

They can string shorter wires or pipe cleaners with beads, sequins and buttons across the center. Encourage kids to experiment.


We link up the sculptures in a chain (using my favorite paper-clip ‘S’ hooks) and suspend from the ceiling.  Instant group Calder mobile!

Calder’s art is so varied and interesting, you could do an entire unit: a mobile lesson, stabile lesson, a wire sculpture lesson, a circus lesson, even a jewelry lesson.

Do you love Calder’s art? Check out my posts on Calder’s jewelry , Calder wire portraits, and best wire sculptures of 2012.

UPDATE: Calder books to read online for free! Click here

NEW: click here: How to make a Calder mobile!


Note: I am an affiliate of Blick Art Supplies. I have been using Blick Armature and Sculpture Wire for nine years and LOVE it!

UPDATED: 11/23/13

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6 thoughts on “Calder Wire Sculpture for Fifth Grade

  1. Hi Helga

    Sure, you can link back. Are you a big Calder fan? You should check out the Made by Joel website. He is a toy maker (and much more). Good luck with your whirlypets!

  2. Hi Rina,

    Will this lesson plan work for 4th graders? I’m the art docent for my daughter’s class and have an upcoming lesson on Modern Art and I wanted to do something a little different than Picasso, etc. Thanks!

    • Hi Margaret

      Thanks so much for volunteering in your daughter’s class! I think this will definitely work for 4th graders. The key is to keep it REALLY simple so kids of all abilities can succeed during your short time with them. Check out my downloadable PowerPoint – there are some third grade examples in there.
      If you only have one hour, I would give the students only one type of wire and skip the sequins. Begin by allowing the students to explore bending and sculpting the wire. Then create a simple fish together or let the kids use their imagination.

      Good Luck!!


  3. Can I join your class? I’m a 48 year old software engineer. Hmmm… You think that might be a problem? 😛

    I stumbled upon your web page while reading about Alexander Calder, who – I’m very embarrassed to admit – I just “discovered”.

    I have to say that I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was in fifth grade. Your projects are great and inspiring, and the results go way beyond the great art your kids are making. They are learning to see and foresee, and will come to understand the power of imagination and creativity. No gadget, video game, or computer program will ever get even close – and this comes from someone who writes code for a living.

    We need to fund more art in school, and you and your kids are proof of that.

    Best wishes,


    • Hi Luis
      Thanks for your kind words! Alexander Calder’s art is so varied, whimsical, clever, and humorous. Kids (and adults!) love his art. If you have a chance, please see the movie ‘Calder’s Circus’. Clips are on YouTube.
      I know fifth grade is long past, but I encourage you to get some wire and start creating. Bonus: You can handle the pliers and wire cutters without supervision 🙂
      Best wishes to you as well


  4. Pingback: How to Make a Calder Mobile » K - 6 Art K – 6 Art

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