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Nevelson-Inspired Shoes With An Attitude

Gina has been an art teacher for 20+ years. She's taught in the judicial system and in community art programs as well as in schools.

Student work

Art by Gabrielle, 7th Grade

Art by Gabrielle, 7th Grade

Medici Princess by Joseph Cornell

One of Joseph Cornell boxes assemblages

One of Joseph Cornell boxes assemblages

Art from recycled materials

Art has been created from cast-off materials since art has been in existence.

Certain artists are drawn to making something out of what others would consider junk — taking what most people would view as useless and arranging it in an artistic manner, or placing it with traditional materials or in a particular setting that elevates it from junk to art.

Examples of artists who did assemblages:

  1. John Angus Chamberlain used recycled automobile parts assembled.
  2. Ed Kienholz’s large-scale installations looked like stages.
  3. Joseph Cornell confined his assemblages to boxes.

All great innovations are built on rejections.

In this particular lesson plan, students will look closely at the work of Louise Nevelson.

Nevelson was known for her abstract sculptures made from cast-off pieces of wood, uniformly coated with black or white spray paint.

Students will create their own assemblages using an old shoe and items that they have collected.

Nevelson is credited with saying “I think all great innovations are built on rejections.”

Louise Nevelson: A bold woman who made bold choices

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson

One of Nevelson's wall sculptures


Who was Louise Nevelson?

Louise Nevelson, (born in the Ukraine on September 23, 1899 and died in New York on April 17, 1988) was a sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures.

Louise Nevelson:

  1. emerged in the art world when the Abstract Expressionist movement was dominant.
  2. utilized wooden objects that she gathered from urban debris piles to create her monumental installations.
  3. was greatly influenced by Marcel Duchamp's found object sculptures.
  4. usually created out of wood, her sculptures appear puzzle-like, with multiple intricately cut pieces placed into wall sculptures or independently standing pieces, often 3-D.
  5. unique feature of her work is that her figures are often painted in monochromatic black or white.
  6. carefully arranged the recycled objects in such a way as to create something new and historic, a new narrative with old materials, which embodied her experiences.
  7. purposefully selected wooden objects for their evocative potential to call to mind the forms of the city, nature, and the celestial bodies.
  8. sculptures paved the way for the dialogues of the Feminist art movement of the 1970's by breaking the taboo that only men's artwork could be large-scale.
  9. works initiated an era in which women's life history became a suitable subject matter for monumental artistic representation.

Student work


The assignment


To have students:

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  • understand color value
  • use of 3-d space within monochromatic fields
  • analyze relationships of works of art to one another in terms of history, aesthetics, and culture, justifying conclusions made in the analysis and using such conclusions to inform their own art making
  • play with the shape and meaning of everyday objects to create sculptures
  • identify intentions of those creating artworks
  • create an assemblage, a number of pieces fitted together, a work of art consisting of miscellaneous objects fastened together
  • employ organizational structures and analyze what makes them effective or not effective in the communication of ideas
  • analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art


Students observed and described abstract relief sculptures created by Louise Nevelson.

They were amazed at how she was able to use found objects and one color to create such beautiful works of art.

To create their own sculptures, the students were given the task of collecting their own materials for their Nevelson-inspired found object sculpture.

We put a spin on this by using an old shoe as the canvas, rather than boxes, which was the norm for Nevelson.

When the sculptures were complete, they were painted a choice of black, white, silver or gold.

Student work

Art by George, 8th Grade

Art by George, 8th Grade

Student work

Art by Lauren, 7th Grade

Art by Lauren, 7th Grade


Adhesives: hot glue and glue guns

Spray paint in:

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Black
  • White

Recyled objects: Students collected these based on the theme of their assemblage.

Tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, wire cutters, exacto knives

Old shoes

An open mind

Student work

Art by Joseph, 7th Grade

Art by Joseph, 7th Grade

Art by Victoria, 7th Grade

Art by Victoria, 7th Grade

Student work

Art by Natalie, 8th Grade

Art by Natalie, 8th Grade

Art by Kim, 8th Grade

Art by Kim, 8th Grade

Procedure and assessment


Students will examine several of Nevelson's work. After collecting recycled materials for the assignment, students will play with the materials to come up with a design that is pleasing, and fitting to the objective.

Items will be glued nto the shoe canvas using hot glue.

When completed, it will be sprayed uniformly, using their choice of color.

Read the label carefully and follow all precautions when using any spray paint.


  • Use of media
  • Overall craftsmanship
  • Difficulty of selected solution
  • Visual impact

Discussion Questions

Is the sculpture considered "in the round" or "relief"?
Is the sculpture functional?
What makes the sculpture "fine art"? How do viewers define what is art and what is junk?

Assemblage in the style of Louise Nevelson

Who is your favorite "assemblage artist?"

Who's that Boxy Lady?

© 2016 Gina Welds


Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on September 25, 2016:

This is amazing. I'll bet that you could give an assignment like this and envision who would have quite the career as an artist. Kudos.

Gina Welds (author) from Tampa, Florida on September 09, 2016:

Hi Dana. Thanks for visiting. Nevelson was definitely a woman before her time. Her work has inspired me to create various lesson plans, but this particular one was the favorite of students, especially Middle School students.

On another note, I just read your story about endometriosis, and wanted to comment, but there was no comment box.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on September 09, 2016:

I never heard of her but her creativity is very inspiring. Nice article.

Gina Welds (author) from Tampa, Florida on September 06, 2016:

Hi Manatita. Good to see you!

Nevelson created large-scale sculptures. My students were inspired to do these shoe sculptures because we wanted to create something that was different. Each of them had a pair of heavily worn shoes, and coming up with the materials was seems everybody has a junk drawer in their home.

Louise Nevelson was famous for her "intrusion" into a man's world as far as monumental sculptures was concerned.

manatita44 from london on September 06, 2016:

Do not know of her, neither of the others in fact, although Joseph Cornell is a familiar name. Did she inspire art with shoe designs or sculptors?

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