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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Making Art Together

Why We Use Found Materials

The Art Studio at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has a long history of working with recycled materials and found objects. In addition to the challenges presented by a limited budget and lots of Museum guests interested in making art, both of which make using free materials very attractive, The Carle’s art educators, like many artists, also see the artistic potential in transforming something designed for one purpose into something else.

a rainbow of found materials

We didn’t have to look far to be inspired to see discarded objects in new and aesthetically pleasing ways. Eric Carle himself makes art from objects which would otherwise be thrown away. The Carle has exhibited art created by Eric in which he used discarded brushes, paint stirrers, old hinges, pieces of cardboard blotters from his tissue paper painting process.  In 2003, in conjunction with an exhibition featuring the work of William Steig, we exhibited a collection of playful, found-object sculptures created by his wife, artist and author Jeanne Steig. The featured Every Day Art Program during that exhibition invited Museum guests to create their own compositions from found objects. Since then, we have used found materials as a provocation for artistic exploration on a regular basis in our Every Day Art Projects, classes, and professional workshops.  Some of these programs have been in connection with Museum exhibitions, such as those featuring puppets by Ashley Bryan and collages by Ezra Jack Keats.

Ashley Bryan's Puppets

Unlike art materials and tools that are designed to be used to “make art,” found or re-used materials come with a history and a preconceived purpose. The act of re-envisioning and creating with such materials is process rich in potential for wondering, imagining, tinkering, and learning. Finding the potential in an object which might ordinarily be discarded is empowering. We want our guests to leave with the understanding that they don’t need a lot of fancy art supplies in order to make art. We love hearing visitors say, “Hey, we have that stuff in our recycling bin, let’s do this at home!” In this consumer-based economy it feels good to send a message that something beautiful or useful can come from “used stuff.” Creating with found or discarded objects is eco-friendly, intellectually challenging, and a whole lot of fun.  It doesn’t get that much better than that!

Flowers made from Found materials

Our activities featuring found materials sometimes include anything we’ve collected in the last few months or a carefully selected collection of just a few kinds of objects. Sometimes we present guests with the open-ended question, “What can you make with these materials?” Sometimes it’s a bit more directed, “How might you make a ___ (musical instrument/cityscape/toy that moves) with these objects?” No matter what kind of materials we’re offering, we encourage observation and exploration through prompts such as:  “What do you notice about these objects/materials?” and “How are they the same or different?”  From there our guests explore, collaborate, and occasionally seek out our help in solving challenges as work.

printing circles with found objects

The great thing about recycled and found materials is that they are everywhere!  Every volunteer and employee at The Carle knows to save their juice caps, wine corks, yogurt lids, etc. We even have a jar in our staff kitchen to collect the potential materials that come in our lunch bags each day. There are resource centers across the country that receive discards and seconds from individuals and manufacturers for the purpose of making them available to schools and individuals. Knack creative reuse center in Easthampton, MA, Extras for Creative Reuse in Lynne, MA, and Resources for Rhode Island Education are three such places in New England.

Our collection of found materials goes between being stored by material type or color, but sometimes seeing them all mixed up in one basket can be inspiring too.

Visit the Found Materials Category of our blog to learn more about how we’ve explored recycled and found materials in the Art Studio’s programs.

found materials city

Learn more about The Carle’s workshop, Teaching with Found Materials, and other Art Centered Programs for Adults.

Why we use found materials



We enjoy exploring materials and ideas in the Art Studio, and we’re excited to share our process with you! Please consider the following factors when adapting these posts for your learning environment: 

We facilitate a variety of programs within the Art Studio for a wide range of age groups. Please carefully consider the age appropriateness of each individual activity in your own learning environment.

Our projects are always done with adult supervision and proper safety precautions. Be sure all of your projects are overseen by adults who likewise follow proper safety precautions. The adults overseeing your project must also be responsible for handling or assisting with any potentially harmful equipment or materials. 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not responsible for any damages, injuries or liabilities that result from any activities contained within this website, and we expressly disclaim any responsibility or liability therefor. From time to time, we reference materials that we have found to be particularly important in our projects. We do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending materials. 


by Meghan Burch

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 at 8:30 am and is filed under By Meghan Burch, Found Materials, Our Approach. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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