Exploring Art Through Sculptures – Wadsworth Atheneum Museum

wadworth museum event

Second Saturdays for Families at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is all about exploring art together! Families can take a guided tour of the galleries with a docent, enjoy live music and dance performances, and create their own collection-inspired works of art to take home. The program is free and runs from 10 am – 1 pm on the second Saturday of every month.

For our recent May 2018 event, we decided to focus on sculpture of all kinds. We offered hands-on activities that encouraged families to look closely at artworks, experiment with new materials, and create a 3-D structure that was both structurally sturdy and artistically unique.

Sculpture Style #1: Classical


We made Model Magic sculptures in our Morgan Great Hall Gallery, which features many Classical and Neoclassical sculptures to inspire new creations. Two marble lion sculptures guard one of the gallery’s doorways, as they would have guarded an ancient Greek temple around 300 BC. Orazio Andreoni’s Pereat (Let him Perish) from 1892 tells a dramatic story of a gladiator battle in ancient Rome, and the two figures are giving an angry “thumbs-down” to the warriors battling in the arena.

lion sculptures wadsworth

Lion, Greek, c. 300 BCE, Marble, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.224-5.

wadsworth museum

Orazio Andreoni, Pereat (Let him Perish), 1892, Marble, sandstone, and bronze, Gift of John J. Corning, 1910.11.

We encouraged visitors to look at these sculptures first, and we asked a few questions to encourage close looking. Our inquiry-based teaching model always uses open-ended questions to get families talking and sharing ideas! Classical sculptures often tell dramatic stories of gods, heroes, and ferocious beasts, so we asked a lot of questions about story:

  • What is happening in this artwork? What’s the story?
    • Example answer: “The lion looks like it’s about to pounce! Maybe it’s hunting.”
  • What details do you notice? How do the details add to the story?
    • Example answer: “There is a metal helmet and sword lying on the ground in front of the two women. Maybe the empty helmet is a symbol of the losing gladiator.”

Visitors aren’t able to touch these sculptures, but there is plenty of marble in the room that they can touch, such as the stairs and railings. This helps them feel how cold and hard the material is.

Then, we handed out individual packages of white Model Magic so visitors could make their own dramatic scenes. Many visitors decided to make animals, using carving tools to create details such as a unicorn’s horn, a lion’s mane, or the scales on a dragon. Model magic is easy to color after it air-dries, so visitors could paint their sculptures later at home. Some science shows that many ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were once painted too!

clay sculptures wadsworth


Sculpture Style #2: Modern

modern sculpture

David Smith, Untitled, 1963, Painted steel, Collection of Candida Smith.


There isn’t as much story in Modern sculpture, but there is plenty of drama! Near one of the museum’s entrances there is a mini-exhibit called David Smith: Figures & Dwelling. Untitled, painted white, is on loan to the museum. The stainless steel 3 Circles Related, is in the Wadsworth’s collection.

museum figures

David Smith, 3 Circles Related, 1958-59, Stainless steel, Gift of Susan Morse Hilles, 1962.5.

For abstract sculptures like these, our questions were focused more on the form than the content:

  • What shapes do you see? How do the shapes connect to one another?
    • Example answer: “On 3 Circles Repeated, there are two circular holes at the bottom and a third on top. The top circle looks a little bit like a head!”
  • Use your hands to show different lines and shapes in the sculptures.
    • Example answer: Hold one hand vertically and one hand slightly angled to show the sturdy outlines of Untitled.

The interlocking foam pieces in Slot Fit Sculpture Craft Kit are perfect for making David Smith-inspired modern sculptures. They come in three colors: pink, black, and white. We also provided full foam sheets so visitors could cut their own shapes or add more color to their creations. The foam can easily be hole-punched to create an effect similar to the see-through circles in both of these sculptures. While the slot-fit method means you can rearrange the shapes in different ways, we also provided glue so that visitors could make their structures more permanent.

We also provided gift bags so families’ creations could make it home safely.

slot fit sculptures wadsworth

We had a great day making and talking about art, and we can’t wait for the next Second Saturdays for Families event. See you at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art!

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