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Robert Therrien: Tall Tales

For Grades K–12

Related to Robert Therrien
(July 3–October 27, 2013)


Featured Work
Background Information for Educators
Gallery Visit
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum 


Robert Therrien
(American, born 1947)
No title (folding table and chairs, beige), 2006
Paint, metal, and fabric
Table: 96 x 110 x 110 inches (243.8 x 279.4 x 279.4 cm); four chairs (unfolded): 104 x 64 x 72 inches (264.2 x 162.6 x 182.9 cm) each
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2007
(pictured at top right)


Students will:

  • Become familiar with artist Robert Therrien and his sculpture No title (folding table and chairs, beige), 2006
  • Be inspired by No title (folding table and chairs, beige) to create an individual response through photography, sculpture, or storytelling
  • Learn about the use of a grid to generate images and ideas from a two-dimensional image


  • Paper for writing and illustrating
  • Various art supplies: drawing materials, glue, tape, rulers
  • Optional art supplies: sculpture materials (wire, paper mache, string, beads, etc.), camera, photo-editing software, hardware for printing photographs 


About the Artist
Los Angeles–based artist Robert Therrien has been making sculpture for more than three decades, transforming ordinary objects and forms into extraordinary works of art. Since the 1970s, Therrien (born 1947) has created work inspired by memory and the everyday—a snowman, a chapel, a coffin, a keyhole, a stack of plates, a table and chairs—coaxing humble elements into surreal configurations through abstraction, repetition, and variations in color and scale. Household shapes become unfamiliar, colors appear simple yet indistinguishably enigmatic, and references to known things are evoked and then deliberately blurred. His modestly sized, exquisitely hand-wrought early sculptures are minimal, simplified shapes abstracted from reality, and his later works, despite their industrialized and imposing presence, can also be readily identified as having a basis in real life. Large in scale, highly fabricated, and often distorted, they become less real even as they are more recognizable. 

About the Work
No Title (folding table and chairs, beige) is more than simply an enlarged replica. This work of art combines the sculptural forms of the furniture with the novelty and magic of experiencing these everyday objects from a new perspective. No Title (folding table and chairs, beige) and many similar sculptures were inspired by a series of black-and-white Polaroid photographs the artist made of the underside of his kitchen table, which captured the mix of vertical and horizontal lines formed by the various surfaces, legs, and rungs of the furniture. Therrien enlarged the original object—in this case a card table from Cosco he admired for its design—to reproduce the dramatic perspectives such as those captured in the photos, creating a new and unexpected way of seeing these familiar forms.


Sculptures are three-dimensional and experiential; the sculpture featured in this lesson plan needs to be visited in person in order to understand its impact.


  • Visit the Gallery with your students and view the sculpture No Title (folding table and chairs, beige).
  • Have your students walk under the table, making sure not to touch it.
  • Explain how large this sculpture is. The table is 96 x 110 x 110 inches, which is just over nine feet tall. For reference, the tallest NBA basketball player ever was seven feet, seven inches, which means even he could still walk under the table with more than a foot to spare.
  • Ask:
    • How did you feel when you walked underneath the sculpture?
    • If you could put the sculpture anywhere you wanted, where would you put it? Would you put it in your own home? Why or why not?
    • If you could enlarge an everyday object from home to create a larger-than-life sculpture, what object would you choose? Why?
  • Using the background information about the artist, Robert Therrien, explain that he changes ordinary objects into new and unexpected sculptures by altering their size, color, etc.
  • Ask the students to imagine a story about this sculpture. Have them think about the characters, setting, and plot of the story.
    • Where is the setting for this story? Would it take place in the museum? In a home? Outside? Outer space?
    • Whose table and chairs are these? Would you want to meet the owners of the table and chairs? Why or why not?
    • What genre (type of story) are you thinking of? Is it a fairy tale? A mystery? An action/adventure? An alien encounter? Make notes about what happens in your story.


Artmaking Connection

As a class, choose one everyday object. Take a photograph (or use an existing photograph) of the object and print on nonglossy paper. Draw a grid onto the photograph. Give each student one square of the grid to draw from onto a large piece of paper. When the students are finished with the drawings, glue or tape all the drawings together to create one large image of the object.
Learn More about the Grid 

Measure the height and width of the object in the final drawing from the above project. Use those dimensions to create an enlarged version of the object. Using a wire armature as the base, fill the sculpture in with newspaper and masking tape, paper mache, string, clay, or whatever sculptural material you may have available. 

Robert Therrien took photographs of everyday objects for inspiration when creating his large-scale sculptures. Ask each student to think of a small object (shoebox size or smaller) that is special to them. For younger students, the object could be a favorite small toy. For older students, the object could be one that evokes a special memory or feeling. Instruct them to bring in the object and set up an area where the object can be photographed. Students can take photos from many different angles. These photographs can be printed to use in the above drawing project, made into a photograph series, manipulated in a photo-editing program, or used as inspiration to write a story. 

Language Arts Connection

Use the following guided questions to brainstorm a story to go with Robert Therrien’s No title (folding table and chairs, beige):

  1. Where is the setting of the story?
  2. Who are the main characters?
  3. What is the rising action? (create a conflict or an action)
  4. What happens at the climax?
  5. What is the resolution?

Remind the students to use descriptive images while creating their story and improve though the process of editing to create a final short story. Create a title for the final draft. 

Let the students draw an image for their story, reminding them that, like Robert Therrien, they can play with the scale, color, or size of objects and characters in the drawing.


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 3, 4, 5, 10