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Imagine Your Own Civilization

For Grades K–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Background Information for Educators
Activity: Imaginary Beings
Optional Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Charles Simonds
(American, born 1945)
Number II (Ritual Furnace), 1978
Clay with wood base
12 x 29 x 29 inches (30.5 x 73.7 x 73.7 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani, 1996


  • Students will learn about Charles Simonds and how he uses his invention of an imaginary civilization to create his sculpture
  • Students will create a Charles Simonds–inspired civilization and a related sculpture of its environment


Charles Simonds has invented a whole race, called the Little People, who have their own history, set of beliefs, and ways of life. We never see the Little People themselves in Simonds’s work, only the architecture they leave behind.

The forms of the architecture are reminiscent of Native-American structures—especially those of the Southwest—which Simonds visited as a child. These references are also appropriate since, like the Native Americans, Simonds noted that the Little People’s lives are centered “on belief attitudes towards nature, toward the land.” Their buildings are made of clay, which comes from the earth, and other natural elements such as twigs, bones, or sand.

This particular structure is subtitled “Ritual Furnace.” A path leads through an opening in the dilapidated wall to a staircase that ascends to the upper section of the building. One has to imagine the inside configuration and how a person would reach the staircase at the back of the structure, which exits directly onto the roof. On the roof is a hexagonal construction with a circular wall in the center. Inside the circle is black pigment, which implies that something was burned, perhaps a ritual sacrifice of some sort. There are small upright spikes all around the structure.



Show the Telling Tales Presentation, Slide #12

Share information with the students about Charles Simonds’s sculpture from the “Background” section above, and let them know this is one of the structures Charles Simonds built.

As a class or as individuals, create an imaginary group of beings. What do they call themselves? Where do they live? What do they eat, and how do they get their food? How do they work? What do they do in their leisure time? How do they keep their society in order? How big are they? Create a symbol for your society’s flag. Use your imagination!

Scouting a Location

With whatever supplies are available, have the students divide into groups and create buildings for their imaginary society (it might be a good idea to sketch the ideas first).

Build a World for your Imaginary Beings

If you decide to use Play-Doh or self-drying clay, have the students roll out long snakes, then shape them into rectangles by pressing them softly on the desk, turning them, pressing again, etc. Cut the snakes into tiny bricks and let them dry. Build with the tiny bricks alone, in groups, or as a class. Glue might help hold some of the more fragile structures together. To add to the activity, the students could then draw floor plans for the interior of their structures.


  • Each student could build a tiny structure for their civilization out of toothpicks, Q-tips, paper, or other materials, and find a place inside her/his desk for it. This might entail some desk cleaning for some!
  • Students could draw a world for their imaginary beings.


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standard for Social Studies 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Self-Drying Clay Recipe

2 cups flour
3 tbsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups salt
2 1/2 cups boiling water
3 tbsp. oil

Mix dry ingredients. Add liquids. Let stand until salt dissolves. Stir until cool and then knead until smooth. Makes enough for five to six children to each have a two inch diameter sphere of clay.

Will last indefinitely in sealed container. Can be colored by adding drops of food coloring. To make bright colors, use a lot of food coloring. Clay can be air-dried thoroughly and painted. Do not bake.