Materials Matter

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Children will explore the movement and texture of fabric and other materials through hands-on group and individual activities. They will then make an all-class fabric “sculpture” and share their creation with others through pictures.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • describe at least three details they notice about El Anastui’s metal cloth;
  • describe at least three differences they notice between an assortment of materials they crumple with their hands; and
  • work together with their classmates to create a work of art.

Lesson

  1. Warm-up: Have the children stand around the outside of the sheet or parachute, holding onto the edges with their hands. Encourage them to wave the fabric up and down then stop. The second time, tell them that you want them to watch how the fabric moves while they wave it. Have them wave the material again and then allow time to talk about their observations.
  2. Have the children look at the picture of El Anatsui’s metal cloth artwork and describe its shape. Ask questions to help them make comparisons between what they see in the sculpture to the observations they made about the sheet. What is similar? What is different?
  3. Give them each a piece of aluminum foil and ask the questions that follow: Does it feel soft? Hard? Both? Why? What happens when you bend it? Is it different or the same as the sheet? After you go over the questions, share that the materials El Anatsui used for his metal cloth were even harder than the aluminum foil they’re using.
  4. Allow the children to play around with the other materials, touching, shaping, bending, and manipulating them as they feel inspired. Take some time to debrief what they discover.
  5. Share with the children that they will now make their own “sculpture” as a class on the floor using a blanket that they scrunch, fold, and place objects under to create a sense of shape, billowing, and movement. Help them as they try to make the shapes. Take pictures of the process and display their final design or share with other teachers, administrators, and/or parents.

Materials

  • One large silk, satin, or other fabric bed sheet or one large parachute
  • One piece of aluminum foil for each child (at least 8 x 8 inches)
  • Assorted materials for children to crumple (e.g. brown paper bags, aluminum foil, satin, silk, blankets, cardboard)
  • One large blanket
  • Assorted three dimensional objects to place under blanket to create a “sculpture”
  • Camera and means of projecting or printing photographs
  • About the Art section on Rain Has No Father?
  • Photos of El Anatsui’s workshop and the workers who help him
  • One color copy of the metal cloth for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Rain Has No Father?

Rain Has No Father?

2008

El Anatsui

Who Made It?

El Anatsui [ah-nat-SOO-ee] was born 1944 in Anyako, Ghana—the youngest, he says, of his father’s 32 children. His mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by an uncle in a Presbyterian mission. As was common in pre-Independent Ghana, school curriculum, and art school curriculum in particular, were almost entirely Western. Anatsui says this left him feeling restless and rootless and he began looking for ‘‘something that had more relationship to me, as someone growing up in an African country.’’

Anatsui is known for creating art out of found materials such as driftwood, clay, paper, and liquor-bottle tops. He draws on a combination of African aesthetic traditions as well as Western Art history. Plans for this specific work began sometime in 2006, when Curator of Native Arts Nancy Blomberg, along with then Curator of African Art Moyo Okediji, commissioned El Anatsui to create something specifically for the Denver Art Museum. To create his “metal cloths,” Anatsui enlists the help of skilled assistants who work with him in his studio cutting, flattening, and shaping metal liquor bottle tops into design blocks conceived by the artist. Anatsui carefully arranges the different elements on the floor of his studio and, once he is satisfied with the design, his assistants use copper wire to stitch the individual pieces together. Anatsui acknowledges the input of his assistants, noting that the “variety which is needed at this scale comes from the style and the feel of each individual hand.”

Anatsui is currently a Professor of Sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he has lectured since 1975. His work appears in numerous international and American art museums, including The British Museum in London, Le Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

What Inspired It?

"Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.” - El Anatsui

While out one day, Anatsui came across a bag of liquor bottle tops that were sitting in a bush. He took them back to his studio thinking that he might be able to use them at some point. “I kept the bottle caps in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement,” says Anatsui. As the metal pieces were stitched together, he noticed that his artworks began to resemble fabric cloths. “Incidentally too, the colours of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloths” (a West African weaving tradition).

While it would be easy to suggest that Anatsui is recycling materials in his artworks, he doesn’t see it that way. Rather, he describes his use of found materials as a “transformation” of those materials. For Anatsui, the inclusion of bottle caps suggests a link between European and African histories: “To me, the bottle tops encapsulate the essence of the alcoholic drinks which were brought to Africa by Europeans as trade items at the time of the earliest contact between the two peoples.”

When creating Rain Has No Father?, El Anatsui was inspired by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The silver cloth is perforated with slashing vertical elements symbolizing “the rain which gives way to life forms.” The three multicolored blocks spread across the top are formed from hundreds of pieces of metal carefully made into tiny open squares—perhaps suggesting clouds holding masses of rain droplets about to be released.

Details

Bottle Caps
Bottle Caps

Each bottle top, once flattened, is about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Gina Laurin, DAM conservator, who worked on repairing the artwork before it was hung, estimates that 9,000 bottle tops were used to make this particular piece. Given the number of artworks Anatsui has created in the last several years, it is currently hard to find used tops. He now goes straight to the distillery to acquire the bottle caps, making newer shinier works.

Copper Wire
Copper Wire

Anatsui uses copper wire to hold each piece of aluminum in place. “The process of stitching, especially the repetitive aspect, slows down action and I believe makes thinking deeper,” says Anatsui. “It’s like the effect of a good mantra on the mind.”

Folds
Folds

The folds are created in the act of hanging the piece. Anatsui prefers museums to install the metal cloths and create folds. Rain Has no Father? arrived at the museum folded up inside a box. Curator Nancy Blomberg began experimenting with small prototypes—digital images on canvas, 8 ½ x 11 inches—to figure out how the piece would be hung in the gallery. While this was helpful, it was during installation that final decisions on how to best display the work of art were made. The curatorial, installation, and conservation staffs helped to devise a system of pulleys that allowed the DAM to hang the piece safely, as well as manipulate it to create the necessary folds. Installation crews spent a day hanging the work.

Shadow
Shadow

The surface of this piece is not solid. Light passes through, creating a shadow on the back wall.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.