Making Sculpture with Matches: A Cure for the Summertime Blues

Dog days are here.  It’s so hot and humid that all kinds of mushrooms are popping up in the grass, but that’s no reason for being bored and out of sorts waiting for school to start!   There are zillions of great crafty ideas in the collection of activity books in the Cotsen Children’s Library.

paulinchenSome people can’t resist playing with matches, like Heinrich Hoffmann’s Paulinchen, shown at the left.  If she had lived to adulthood, perhaps she would have discovered the creative potential of the match as a building material.  Constructing things with matches is a much safer way to have fun with them, although it is possible to dream up projects that require considerable outlays of time and money, plus studio space.   All the replicas of famous buildings below were made entirely of matches by retired British carpenter Brian Wherry.

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Twentieth-century activity books for children feature  many doable projects creating little sculptures from matches and found objects. Three of my favorites are beautifully illustrated books from Denmark and the Soviet Union published during the early 1930s.  This Soviet pamphlet by Eleonora Kondiain offers wordless pictures for making things out of acorns and matchsticks.  About all that is needed is a table top and a jackknife.

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Getting started. Eleanora Kondiain, Zheludi I spichki [Acorns and Matches] Leningrad: GIZ, 1930, p. 3 (cotsen 18308)

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Acorn and matchstick piggies from Eleanora Kondiain, Zheludi I spichki, p. 5. Cotsen also has Kondiain’s little book with instructions for making a doll from straw and for whittling a stag from a twig.

Matches can be stuck in potatoes for the same purpose too, although it raises the question whether perfectly good food should be used this way…  Kuznetsov’s  illustrations of the match-potato sculptures make it look as if anything done to the potato is completely reversible before peeling, cutting up, and popping into a pot of boiling water.  Would anyone care if the vegetables had been part of a cat or equestrian figure a little while before dinner was put on the table?

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A sculpture of potatoes, matches, string, etc. I. P. Meksin, Kartoshka [Potato] illustrated by K. V. Kuznetsov. Leningrad: GIZ, 1930, p. 7 (Cotsen 21419). Opinion in the office was divided as to whether the animal being ridden is a bull, a reindeer or a donkey. Or none of the above…

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This is clearly a cat. Meksin, Kartoshka (1930), p. 4.

The really ambitious crafter can build backdrops so the figures can be arranged in  tableaux.   For inspiration, look at the scenes  E. Fetnam created and Kay W. Jensen captured on film in Nodder and Propper [Nuts and Corks].  The cover design  makes delightful use of matches and mixed nuts…

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A kangaroo family conversing in E. Fetnam’s Nodder og Propper. Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen, c.1933, p. 29 (Cotsen 95045).

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Now can you make this friendly ladybug without instructions?

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To see more activity books in the collection, check out Cotsen’s virtual exhibition about the Pere Castor books 

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