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Activity: Make a Collage Portrait Inspired by Backpack Items

In today’s activity, learn about David Esterly’s Dr. Compton’s Letter Rack, then make a collage portrait based on items found in your backpack!

Look Closer:  

  • David Esterly’s artwork represents Dr. Neil Compton (1912-1999), a Northwest Arkansas-based physician and environmentalist. How is this piece different from some other portraits you’ve seen at the museum? How is Dr. Compton being remembered with this piece? 
  • The subject of Esterly’s “portrait” is made up of different objects. In this piece, each object helps tell the story of Dr. Compton’s life, including his military service, medical career, and conservation work to preserve the Buffalo River, among many others. What objects could be used to tell a story about your life? 
  • Esterly learned to become a sculptor when he visited London and saw work by a seventeenth-century woodcarver. Have you ever been inspired by someone else’s artwork? What was it?

Activity: Make a Collage Portrait Inspired by Items Found in Your Backpack


  • Background for your work: paper, felt, etc. 
  • Air-dry clay
  • Washable markers
  • Items from your backpack


Step 1: Open your backpack and search for items you might want to include in your collage. This could be the pencil you use every day or your favorite colored folder. Get creative!

Step 2: Think about other supplies you use every day at school. Decide a few items that you can make out of air-dry clay. Open the clay and pick the colors you would like to use from your set of markers.

Step 3: Flatten the surface of the clay and scribble with a marker to cover the clay. Knead the clay together to see the color change! Repeat for a more vibrant color.

Step 4: Now you have multiple sections of colored clay to use. Sculpt your items by rolling, flattening, and shaping the clay.

Step 5: Use a combination of real items and the ones you created to make a piece of art! Try many different versions until you feel happy with how it looks.  Now you have a piece of art that helps you celebrate going back to school!

Helpful Hint: Once the clay hardens slightly, you can add more details to the pieces using markers.

Have fun exploring! Share your collage portrait with us on social media – tag #crystalbridges on Instagram.

Written by Marlie Allgood, art instructor.