Cure for the Summertime Blues: Making Sculpture with Matches

Dog days are here.  School won’t begin for a while.  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!   There are zillions of great crafty ideas in the collection of activity books in the stacks of the Cotsen Children’s Library, some of which we’ll share with you right now.


The match is the subject of today’s look at children’s craft projects. One of the chief attractions of matches is that they burn. Anyone silly enough to want to play with matches should read  what happened to Heinrich Hoffmann’s Paulinchen when she did not resist the temptation. Here she is, paying no attention to the two kitties begging her to stop before it is too late.  If she had lived to grow up, who knows, maybe she would have become an artist specializing in installations of matches designed to be set on fire and self-destruct…  Luckily, matches have even more potential as a building material than as a combustible.  A much safer way to have fun with matches, it can be taken to extremes when projects are dreamed up that require considerable outlays of time and money, plus studio space.


Retired carpenter Brian Wherry in Exeter, England with some of his colossal creations made of matchsticks.

In twentieth-century children’s activity books there are many, many very doable projects creating little sculptures from matches and combinations of 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.


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


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.

Potatoes work well too for this purpose, although it raises the question whether it is right to use perfectly good food this way.  Kuznetsov’s  illustrations make it look as if anything done to the potato can be reversed before peeling, cutting up, and popping into a pot of boiling water.  Presumably no one cares if an hour before the vegetables had been part of a cat or equestrian figure.


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…


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…

nodder kangaroo

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

nodder cover

Now can you make this friendly ladybug without instructions?


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

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