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Activity: Create Imaginary Landscapes with Salt Dough

Artist making salt dough landscapes

In today’s activity, learn about Isamu Noguchi’s Lunar Landscape and whip up some salt dough out of a few ingredients from your kitchen. Salt dough is a fun and easy recipe which you can make over and over again for any type of project. In this activity, you can use the dough to make imaginary landscapes!

Isamu Noguchi, Lunar Landscape
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) Lunar Landscape 1943 Magnasite, cork, string and electric lights

Look Closer:  

Look closely at the shapes and lines of this artwork. What does this remind you of?

This artwork is a sculpture which means it is 3D in real life and we can see it from all different angles. The title of this sculpture is Lunar Landscape. A landscape is an image of nature and land such as the ocean, mountains, valleys, trees, and craters. Imagine yourself as a tiny figure walking across this landscape. What do you think you would see? What would you touch? Hear? Maybe taste?

The artist Isamu Noguchi created this imaginary landscape after living in a Japanese internment camp (also known as a war relocation or incarceration camp) in Arizona. Internment is the act of putting someone in a prison for political reasons or during a war. 

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II. After the attack and out of fear, President Roosevelt ordered the military to force people of Japanese ancestry into internment camps. These camps were surrounded by barbed wire and people were not allowed to leave. Learn more about the Japanese internment camps.

The internment camps were a difficult and unfair time for all Japanese people living in America. To Noguchi, the Arizona desert was like a lunar landscape, without the freedom to roam. During his internment time, Noguchi used his imagination to travel to the moon and beyond. Imagine visiting another planet or place in nature. Where would you go? What would you expect to see? How might this place be different from where you are now?

Sometimes using our imagination can help us stay calm through difficult times. Try imagining your dream landscape the next time you feel overwhelmed.

Activity: Create Imaginary Landscapes with Salt Dough!

Materials: 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup water
  • Food coloring, liquid watercolor, or spices
  • Large bowl
  • Plate 
  • Baking tray
  • Spoons, forks, chopsticks, or any kind of tool that can be used for shaping dough
  • Twisteezwire or paper clips 
  • Foam shapes, buttons, cut-up straws, or beads 
  • Oven (optional)
  • String lights (optional)
Materials used in this activity

Instructions:

Step 1: Measure out the flour, salt, and water. If you want to make lots of dough, double the recipe!

Step 2: Mix 1 teaspoon of food coloring or liquid watercolor into the water. In the project photos shown, there are two different colored doughs being made. The blue water is food coloring while the yellow water is liquid watercolor. 

If you want natural dough, you can use clear water and color your dough by adding spices such as cayenne pepper or turmeric into the dough mixture later. Please note: this dough is not edible and should not be eaten.

Hands mixing salt dough ingredients
Hands mixing salt dough ingredients

Step 3: In a separate bowl, add salt to the flour. Mix with your hands.

Hands mixing salt dough ingredients

Step 4: Slowly add in the colored or clear water (as you may need less). Knead the mixture into a dough. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. If you are able to clean out the bowl with the dough, then it is ready to use. 

Hands mixing salt dough ingredients
Hands mixing salt dough ingredients

Step 5: Take the dough out of the bowl. Place it on a plate or baking tray.

Step 6: Shape your imaginary landscape using your fingertips and any tools that can be used for shaping dough like spoons, forks, chopsticks, etc. Think of different landforms you want to create such as mountains, valleys, plateaus, and craters. Use chopsticks to carve out caves. Spoons can be used to dig out craters. Make mountains and valleys with a fork. 

Hands forming salt dough landscape

Step 7: Once you have shaped your landscapes, leave them to dry out. You can dry out the salt dough by leaving it in the sun over a couple of days or baking it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 1-2.5 hours depending on the thickness of your landscape. Your dough will slightly rise while drying. Make sure they don’t turn brown as you bake them!

Step 8: Isamu Noguchi used cork spheres on fishing lines to show planets and satellites orbiting around his Lunar Landscape. Think of things that would exist in your imaginary landscape such as animals, clouds, and trees. Use Twisteezwire or paper clips to attach foam shapes, buttons, cut-up straws, or beads. Poke the ends of the wire directly into your baked landscape.

Hands forming salt dough landscape

After you complete your salt dough landscapes, wrap string lights around your sculptures to illuminate them like Noguchi’s landscape!

Finished salt dough landscapes

Have fun exploring! Share your imaginary landscapes with us on social media: tag #crystalbridges on Instagram.

Written by Kim Ly, art instructor, Crystal Bridges.

Special thanks to our sponsors:

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