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Turning Everyday Objects Into Art

Alice Noel


In this program, Alice Noel introduces students to the art of assemblage -- the process of taking ready-made materials (plastics and other synthetics, fabric, glass, metals, even lights) and ordinary "found" objects and using them to create sculptures. She shares some examples of portrait boxes and then shows students how they can build their own portrait boxes--"me-boxes"--using a variety of objects and materials chosen to represent themselves.

Lesson Focus

Creating an imaginative self-portrait using the materials and methods of assemblage sculpture.

Time Requirement

This activity can be accomplished in one to two class periods.

Skill Development

Through this activity, students gain skills in analysis and reflection. They also learn how to express themselves through visual means (specifically through assemblage) and how symbols can be used to represent personality traits and experiences.


Students will:

  • understand that sculpture can be made by assembling and joining ready-made and discarded materials.
  • understand that ready-made and discarded materials can be imaginatively recycled to create sculpture.
  • create a self-portrait by assembling and joining found objects in a "me-box."
  • explore their identity and share something about who they are with others.

Related Artists/Art Works

  • Jerry Ross Barrish, Citroën, 1989
  • Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1951 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
    Photographs of these two assemblages may be found in Adventures in Art (see the resource list below).
  • Nationally acclaimed Kentucky artist Jacque Parsley's examples of assemblage art and more art.

Connections to Educational Standards

The following Kentucky Academic Expectations are all related to Turning Everyday Objects Into Art:

  • 1.13: Students make sense of ideas and communicate with the visual arts.
  • 2.22: Students create works of art and make presentations to convey a point of view.
  • 2.23: Students analyze their own and others' artistic products.
  • 2.24: Students appreciate creativity and values of the arts and the humanities.
  • 2.26: Through the arts and humanities, students recognize that although people are different, they share some common experiences and attitudes.
  • 5.1: Students use critical thinking skills such as analyzing, prioritizing, categorizing, evaluating, and comparing to solve a variety of problems in real-life situations.
  • 5.2: Students use creative thinking skills to develop or invent novel, constructive ideas or products.
  • 6.3: Students expand their understanding of existing knowledge by making connections with new knowledge, skills, and experiences.

Materials Needed

  • shoeboxes
  • wallpaper or other colorful paper for covering boxes (boxes may also be painted)
  • permanent markers
  • scissors
  • glue (a low-heat glue gun is the best choice)
  • assortment of materials for decorating the boxes (colored glue, lace, stickers, fabric swatches, ribbon, etc.)
  • assorted found objects (small toys, photographs, cards, etc.) brought in by the students to represent themselves
  • wire to attach to the back of the box so it can be displayed on a wall

Alternative Materials

The method students use to attach objects to their boxes depends upon the weight of the objects. Attaching heavy objects might require wires, bolts, or screws rather than glue.

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. assemblage
  2. color
  3. concept
  4. consistent
  5. icon
  6. portrait concept
  7. sculpture
  8. symbol

Lesson Instructions Lead your students in the following process:

  1. Fit your paper to your shoebox, cutting it as needed. Carefully crease the paper at the corners and along the edges. When the paper is well fitted to the box, glue it down. (An alternative is painting your box or using a combination of paint and paper.) Think about how you will display your box and what the viewer will be able to see. Cover all the surfaces that will be visible.
  2. Decide which materials and objects you will use in your box. Think about choosing colors that blend or contrast and about the placement of your objects. When you are ready, begin gluing the objects inside your box with the low-heat glue gun. If the objects are heavy, you may have to use an alternative method to attach them to your box, such as wires or screws.
  3. When you are through assembling your box, attach a wire to the back or top of the box so you can hang it up on the wall for display.
  4. Remember: How your box looks is not as important as what it says about you.

Response to Art

Students should be encouraged to talk about their boxes with one another, sharing what the objects and symbols represent and asking questions about their classmates' creations. Students can also include private symbols in their boxes whose meanings are not shared with the class.

Tips for Teachers

The most important part of this project is the process of analyzing who and what you are and how much you're willing to share. Students should feel successful because they have experienced this process of self-discovery and expressed their concept of self through the collection and placement of objects in their "me-boxes." The products themselves are secondary to the process.

Exhibition Suggestion

Display the boxes at child's-eye level along a hall. By displaying the sculptures one after another in a long line, you will create the effect of a single large sculpture without losing the impact of each individual self-expression.


Read about and research the life of a famous person in order to create that person's portrait box.


Chapman, Laura. Adventures in Art. The Discover Art Program. Worchester, MA: Davis Publishers, 1994 (ISBN 87192-254-1)

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951

Last Updated: Monday, 29-Dec-2008 15:23:24 EST