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Natural Materials

For Grades K–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Background Information for Educators
Follow-up Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

David Nash
(British, born 1945)
Small Ladder, 1978
17 x 12 x 5 inches (43.2 x 30.5 x 12.7 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Mrs. John T. Elfvin, 2000


  • Students will learn about the artist David Nash and how natural elements can be the material for creating art
  • Students will create a David Nash–inspired sculpture


David Nash, born in 1947 in Esher, Surrey, England, is an internationally known sculptor who creates work with trees. He uses trees that have been felled and manipulates them into sculpture with chainsaws, axes, and fire. He creates sculptures to be displayed indoors, as well as in the natural environment. He is also well known for shaping living trees, such as the Ash Dome, a ring of twenty-two ash trees near Nash’s home in Wales (pictured on slide 10 in the Telling Tales Presentation).

Small Ladder, 1978, displays one of his reoccurring images. Nash views ladders the same way he views trees, as the embodiment of the connection between heaven and earth. The ascending and descending of an object such as the ladder represents the transition of one space to another, a common theme within Nash’s work.


  • Telling Tales Presentation, Slide #9
  • Found wood (sticks, twigs, etc.)
  • Optional: Twine, string, glue, hot glue and glue gun, paint, paintbrushes, water containers, various types of paper, tagboard, shop tools or carving tools (for older students), etc.


Show Slide #10 from the Telling Tales Presentation. Have the students look at Small Ladder, and ask the questions listed below. Remember that no answers are wrong, as students are interpreting what they see.

  • How does the artist use the following principles of design in Small Ladder?
    • Balance (both literally and visually)
    • Repetition or rhythm (for example, the spacing of the “rungs”)
    • Unity (the connected pieces of wood to create one composition)
  • What does this artwork look like to you?
  • This sculpture was made out of wood—why would an artist use wood for a sculpture?
  • This sculpture was created and then displayed in an art gallery—where would you display it? Would it be in an art gallery? Why or why not? Would it be on the floor or on the wall?


Take a nature walk with your students and gather sticks, twigs, and pieces of wood. Urban alternative: Bring your students to a local park to gather materials or gather materials yourself to bring into the classroom.

When back in the classroom, ask students to create an artwork from the found materials. Set out other various art supplies as well. Suggestions for students who might be stuck include:

  • Bind twigs and sticks together using materials like glue, string, yarn, etc.
  • Collage the materials together on tagboard or a thick piece of paper
  • Add designs using paint, markers, or other coloring materials
  • Use whittling tools to create a sculpture
  • Include balance (both literally and visually), repetition or rhythm, and unity in their compositions


  1. Students could title their sculpture and describe what it was like to use recycled material and how their sculptures show balance, repetition or rhythm, and unity.
  2. Display the wooden sculptures outside to create a sculpture garden. Use the natural decaying process as science integration. Observe and journal what happens to the sculptures.
  3. Have students research Land/Earth artists who are like David Nash, including Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Smithson, and John Davis. Study their impact on the art world and the environment.


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standard for Math, Science, and Technology 4 (see Follow-up Activities #2 and #3)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Core Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 5, 7
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 4 (see Follow-up Activity #1)