Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louise Nevelson

Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louis NevelsonLouise Nevelson (1899-1988) was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. Born in Russia, she emigrated with her family to the United States in 1905. Her unique artistic style was influenced by the cubist movement, co-founded by Pablo Picasso, and the found object sculptures of Marcel Duchamp. Calling herself “the original recycler”, Nevelson is most famous for her found object assemblages, mostly made of wood and painted in a solid monochromatic black or white.

Take a look at Nevelson’s sculptures and you’ll notice how most of them are made with box-shaped compartments filled with random pieces of discarded objects. Nevelson gathered these materials for her sculptures on the streets of New York City, a process that began in her ‘starving artist’ days, when she and her young son would go out looking for wood to burn in their fireplace to stay warm. By painting these complex assemblages with just a single color, Nevelson gave her pieces unity, despite the busyness of their compositions.

To create a project inspired by Louise Nevelson, I utilized the key elements that give her sculptures such a recognizable style…. rectangular groupings of ‘found’ or recycled objects, painted with a monochromatic color scheme.

Gluing surfaces like wood, plastic, and metal together requires a stronger adhesive than your typical glue stick or white glue. A glue gun might work for a sculpture like this, but not in an elementary classroom! So when the folks at Elmer’s sent me a sample of their new X-TREME School Glue and asked me to create a project with it, I knew my Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louise Nevelson would provide the perfect opportunity to put this new glue to the test! I found that Elmer’s X-TREME School Glue works well on a variety of surfaces, dries quick, clear, and strong…. plus it’s non-toxic and even washable (which I discovered quite by accident when I forgot to wash my gluing brush and didn’t discover it until the next day!)


  • nonobjective – a type of abstract art that does not represent a person, place, or thing
  • asymmetrical – without symmetry
  • assemblage – a grouping of objects
  • monochromatic – using only one color, or tints and shades of one color

You’ll need:

  • black plastic trays from the grocery store, usually from the meat department, frozen foods, or produce (You can also use shoebox lids, but those require a lot more painting!)
  • a random assortment of ‘found’ or recycled objects
  • Elmer’s X-TREME School Glue (note: this is a brand new product, not even on the market yet! You can find it at Wal-mart beginning 4/27/15, and at other retailers soon after that!)
  • Q-tips
  • black acrylic paint 
  • paint brush
  • black push pins for attaching your display to the wall


1. You’ll be creating a style of sculpture known as nonobjective. First, lay out an asymmetrical arrangement of random ‘found’ or recycled objects inside one of the black trays. (Make sure you leave at least one small spot where you can poke a push pin through it for hanging your tray when you’re finished.)

Elmer's X-TREME School Glue works on a variety of surfaces

Elmer’s X-TREME School Glue works on a variety of surfaces, like these!

3. Next, use Elmer’s X-TREME School Glue to glue the pieces down one at a time. For small pieces, use a paint brush to carefully dab glue onto the bottom of the piece. Keep in mind that paint will not stick well to the glue, so try not to let the glue ooze out the sides! Q-tips are handy for wiping away any excess glue.

A Nevelson-inspired assemblage painted with black acrylic paint.

A Nevelson-inspired assemblage painted with black acrylic paint.

4. For the strongest bond, let your assemblage dry flat overnight. Then paint everything with at least one coat of black acrylic paint. The paint may stick better to some surfaces than others, so a quick touch-up of any areas that need it will be all you’ll have to do for a second coat. (tip: You won’t need to paint the back and sides of your tray because it’s already black! That’s the advantage of using these plastic trays instead of shoebox lids, which require a lot more painting.) 

Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louis Nevelson

An arrangement of Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louis Nevelson

5. For classes and groups, it’s fun to create a combined display of these individual assemblages on the wall, to really capture the feel of a Louise Nevelson sculpture. Simply use a black push pin to attach each tray onto a bulletin board covered with black paper. You can arrange them all vertically, all horizontally, or a do combination of both. The black push pins will ‘disappear’ into your arrangement, looking like part of the design in each tray!

This post was sponsored by Elmer’s and uses affiliate links.

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2 Responses to Recycled Assemblage Sculptures Inspired by Louise Nevelson

  1. Jan June 25, 2015 at 6:46 am #

    Wow. I love this!!!


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